Revisiting the Image of the City: Exploring the Importance of City Skylines
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As the world’s cities have grown, so too, have their skylines, such that they are now common sights to behold both in reality and in media. Despite being one of the most popular sights of a city, the planning profession has not given much attention to skylines in its daily practice. By pulling together a limited body of research, this study shows that some academics and professionals have deemed skylines to be an intriguing and important aspect of our cities’ built form. This exploratory study builds upon Kevin Lynch’s work on city image by asking people what skylines they prefer and why, and what skylines mean to them. Using a qualitative interviewing technique, 25 participants from planning departments and neighbourhood associations in Kitchener and Waterloo provided their input by viewing a series of skyline images. Participants were found to prefer complex skylines, and they identified important physical features that were necessary to achieve high levels of preference. The same physical features that contributed to preference also sent strong messages about a place, leading participants to find a wealth of meaning in a skyline. The implications of these results for planning practice are presented along with a discussion of how cities may be branded due to the messages their skylines send. Recommendations to introduce skyline planning in mid-size cities are made, based upon the lessons learned from the larger cities used in this research. The exploratory and qualitative nature of this study helps to fill in the literary gaps of this relatively unexplored field, and recommendations for future research are made.