Outside the Frame: a Critical Analysis of Urban Image Surveys
Environmental designers and planners are making greater use of photographic images to depict and envision the contemporary city, yet the methods for employing photographs and their precise construction have not been adequately analyzed. We often lack a critical or ethical basis for creating these images, while viewers are frequently unaware of the manipulation of form and content or the potential biases built into a photograph’s construction. While there are several methods of using images in the design of public places, this research specifically examines image-based survey methodologies such as the “Community Image Survey” and “Visual Preference Survey™” that guide many planning processes. The inclusive and participatory intentions of these methods are laudable, as is the desire to bring the physical qualities of environments to the fore, but image manipulation and delivery skills often outpaces critical analysis of their effectiveness. The predominance of image over bodily experience, the exclusion of intertwined socio-economic, historical and political specificity, and the commodification of place engendered by these surveys raise serious concerns. Rather than making specific recommendations for improving urban image surveys, the following critique questions our dependence upon this increasingly popular but inadequate methodology. Hoping to encourage more critical analysis of urban image surveys, it also sugggests possibilities for more thoughtfully engaging physical conditions in the participatory design process.
Crisman, Phoebe. “Outside the Frame: a Critical Analysis of Urban Image Surveys,” Places, v.18, n.3 (2006): 38-43.