Date: 13 Nov 2001

Grid Patterns and Cultural Expectations in Urban Wayfinding

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Much of the literature on human spatial cognition and language in large-scale environments has been based on ‘simplified’ grid-pattern layouts with orthogonal intersections and parallel paths/streets. However, these are not the prevailing urban structure in many countries. This field study considered the possibility that different cultural expectations for typical urban environments would affect even long-term residents’ mental models and behavior regarding urban wayfinding and locational knowledge. Residents of two grid-pattern cities, one in the UK, where such layouts are rare, and another one in the US, performed a battery of tasks including confidence ratings, sketch map drawing, verbal route directions, and pointing to non-visible landmarks. The results show that the UK group placed less emphasis on the central grid in their sketch maps, and showed a systematic error in their pointing direction. The results are discussed in the light of previous research on orientation biases. Further crosscultural analysis and studies are planned.