URBAN EXPLORATIONS – FEATURED ARTICLE

When are personalised, experience-based routes going to be included in digital navigation?

Urban areas are experiencing change, including new values, expectations and practices surrounding how we interact with our built environment. Here, Urban Reporter Anja Wolf explores the potential for enabling more choice in digital navigation.
by Anja Wolf

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Image source: https://www.google.com/maps

While living in Istanbul, I was always surprised to see tourists walking around with huge, traditional paper maps, rather than using digital maps available on varied devices. Especially in Istanbul – a city where the organic street pattern never seems to fail in getting one lost. Observing these tourists made me reflect on digital maps and our usage of them.

Although “real” maps are still available and helpful, one cannot deny that smartphones have become our most used maps, guiding us to interesting, fascinating places and events. For example, the new project Stereopublic has an app that directs you to the more quiet places in a city, while Citymapper is an app marketing itself as the best when it comes to getting around massive cities such as New York and Paris.

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Image source: http://www.stereopublic.net/

Apps like Stereopublic and Citymapper inform us where interesting locations are, but they do not include the experience on our way to them. In a time where younger generations are seen as individualists, how come we do not see a greater focus on developing apps that not only show us the shortest routes, but that also give us options to decide and declare – as individualists – how we want to move within the city to our destination? Today, personal experience is not significantly taken into consideration. The well-known quote “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey” has a point – the experience-based journey between point A and B is almost (if not as) important. Then how come a wider variation of walking routes are not offered, for example, in Google maps?

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Image source: https://citymapper.com/london

After all, we each have different preferences and ideas on how we want to perceive the city. Someone may prefer taking a longer route to an event if it’s a “green” route. Another may enjoy walking slowly and observing city life, while others sneak through ‘do not walk’ signs at crossings, racing to their destination.

As urban user’s travel preferences evolve, so should the tools, which are helping us to enrich the travel experience. Although, it is certainly more complex, subjective and time-consuming to develop experience-based maps than just calculate the closest route, I am certain this is the next step forward. Instead of looking at wayfinding from a macro-perspective, app-developers and others now should consider altering between a macro and micro perspective in order to solve the task. To recommend one street or route, one would need to have been there and experience it spatially. Or why not collaborate with lifestyle oriented online magazines or bloggers? Instead of only recommending, for example, bars, cafés and shops, mapping apps could extend to include more experience-based routes.

There are many creative ways to approach this development. I hope people working in this field will soon develop these ideas and present innovative experience-based maps. After all, it doesn’t need to be perfect immediately – there’s always the beta version.

About the author

Anja Wolf

Anja Wolf is currently (spring 2015) studying Landscape Architecture at University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and spent last spring studying in Istanbul, Turkey. Apart from her studies, she also works as a freelance writer and runs the project SPIN, a website with a growing collection of interviews with inspirational and creative people.

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