Mayfair, known for its high property value, seemingly evokes my own sense of regality by a simple walk. Oddly, this walk, despite my efforts at maintaining a pristine, fashionable strut was sporadically interrupted by construction and pedestrian traffic. Yet, as I mused over my first experience walking through the neighbourhood, I found that these interruptions may be more than random, and in fact point to a very specific infrastructural, social, and economic structure. I found that wayfinding tools, both formal and informal were integral in telling us the story of how Mayfair is changing.
Wayfinding is an important framework in understanding people’s interaction with an environment and how we create meaningful relationships with it. The manner in which people find their way is a product of topographical, or built features, both of which are perfectly expressed in spaces like cities. Cities like London have existed for many years, and are constantly expanding and changing, meaning the tools that people need to orient themselves need to be constantly reworked. In this process, naturally occurring phenomenon, like the River Thames, is as important as built ones, like the London Eye, in creating landmarks and a sense of direction. However, wayfinding systems are not universal and are used for variable purposes. Abraham Moles describes that the visual designer as one “of a sign engineer who precisely designates the symbolic aspects of the environment to prepare us for real actions” . This is important in setting up a standard for how design, architecture, and other aspects of the city and spatial planning are meant to push people to the desired action, ideally for the utilitarian good.
Mayfair is an incredibly wealthy neighbourhood, catering to specific demographics, and subsequently a specific set of behaviours. More than 42 nationalities live in Mayfair, and 60% of residents are born outside of the UK. An article in Wetherell also shows us that the population of Mayfair is becoming younger and that most people living in Mayfair work from home. These numbers are increasing, as well as the average price per square foot of property, home to property much larger than the rest of London. As I spent time in Mayfair, I found that these demographic and economic characteristics translate into its wayfinding infrastructure, which exists on a gradient divided between the Northeast and Southwest of the Neighborhood. Pedestrian infrastructure such as zebra crossings is a visible aspect of this gradient. I found that they exist in a higher density in the Northeast of the neighbourhood, and around public spaces like parks.
Here, Legible London, as a navigational system initiated by the TrueFrom Group is an important tool in understanding pedestrian access. Legible London is a coordinated wayfinding system used to help people navigate the city. It is comprised of a map and key geographic data, and are placed in carefully chosen areas. As I walked through the space, I encountered higher amounts of foot traffic closer to the Northeast, and areas of public gathering (parks). As another aspect of being a stranger/tourist in the area, I found that Legible London was both an important tool in making sure I don’t end up in Hyde Park, but also in representing the major areas of foot traffic. Interestingly (as seen below) the distribution of signs in legible London correspond with, and legitimize, my experience with pedestrian access.
In the above map, which is a replication of one made by TrueForm, represents (approximately) the locations of Legible London maps in the area in 2010. In areas with higher concentrations of Legible London maps (marked in blue dots), I found higher concentrations of marked pedestrian crossings. This makes sense in the current infrastructural makeup because of the location of the neighbourhood in proximity to others, and the location of institutions within the neighbourhood. Bond Street, a famed high-end shopping street has a high concentration of these signs, where many people both from and outside of Mayfair would walk.
This density can also be explained by the areas adjacent to Mayfair. Oxford Street, another shopping street, defines the Northern boundary of Mayfair, and Soho is located east to the end of our neighbourhood, an area with many stores, entertainment and facilities. In moments of crossing between neighbourhoods, especially ones like SoHo which attract tourists, individuals are presented with the task of making decisions. Maps are conveniently placed in such areas, like Northeast intersection, so as to help people navigate their way. It also makes sense in legitimizing my ideas about the density and use of pedestrian crossings, because there are more people in that area at any given time than areas southeast of there.
This distribution of pedestrian crossings and Legible London maps closely relates to the institutional distribution in the neighbourhood, which are formed by a complex economic development over time.
Above we see a map describing the floor space use Mayfair, the yellow blocks representing hotels and residences, while the blue blocks represent shops and food/drink places. The map was taken from the Neighborhood Plan. This further justifies my experience with a pedestrian crossing, as residential areas have lower foot traffic. They also have less interest for walking tourists, which correlate to the distribution of maps.
Essentially, there is a strong relationship between the distribution of pedestrian infrastructures such as zebra crossings and maps and the distribution of institutions in the area. There is, however, evidence of these systems lacking proper function.
Upon further research, I came across a development project, The Mayfair Neighborhood Plan (2018-2038), which describes a series of policies that are meant to accommodate its growing businesses and community. Some of the construction that I described earlier can be attributed to this project, where new apartment blocks and office buildings are being developed. Here we see an explicit desire for some very particular actions. This comprehensive plan describes a need for an increase in green and public spaces, space for pedestrians, improved walking routes, better store design and more. Such improvements are expected to improve walkability, attract more tourists, and create a stronger sense of community.
This project and the regular construction I witnessed walking through the neighbourhood shows us that 1) That Mayfair’s institutional and architectural environment is going to change, and 2) that wayfinding infrastructure needs to be adapted to accommodate the change in behaviour. What I witnessed is a dissonance in the existing wayfinding infrastructure and the behaviours of those in the area. And I also find a desire to create aspects of pedestrian culture, and community formation. These align closely with the desires of the committee to plan the neighbourhood for the future.
One example of this is a zebra crossing system that I regularly experienced at major intersections in the neighbourhood. Grosvenor Square, as the largest public space in Mayfair, has a high density of foot traffic, but I still witnessed traffic issues and a lack of access. For example, despite there being entrances at the North, South, East, and West of the park, there are no pedestrian crossings that accommodate them. Additionally, in areas where there are crossings associated with an entrance, a specific walking path must be followed to reach it.
The diagram above describes the walking path the enter the Northeast Entrance of the park. The purple line indicates the existing walking path permitted by the city, while the red line represents a walking path that myself and a few other pedestrians use to enter the square from the starting location. I witnessed this issue in other intersections in the neighbourhood, including Berkeley Square.
Pedestrian crossings are important infrastructural investments, as it calls for a specific interaction between drivers and pedestrians, providing safe areas to navigate through busy streets. It creates a reliable standardized set of rules for walking and is integral in giving pedestrians access to areas of the city. Therefore, it is important to legitimize the individuals’ shortcuts, as it represents a lack of efficiency. In some ways, this represents a prioritization of vehicle accessibility, as fewer pedestrian crossings mean, ideally, fewer stops for cars to make. However, this can result in dangerous encounters between cars in pedestrians, when a walking path is not legitimized.
In the Southwest end of the neighbourhood, where a large number of residences exist, I found, on every fence, a sign that describes the removal of unwanted bikes.
One one level, the bike signs tell us of a desire to maintain walkways and aesthetics, but on the other hand, it signals at a demographic change. And finally, it describes a lack of infrastructure to support that change. Mayfair is a central location to reside and residents have easy access to their workplaces. However, in the above that more people are working from home, and that the age of those residing in the area is becoming younger. As such, the signs express a behavioural change in the community, where, potentially, more and more people are using their bikes in the area, but are not provided spaces by the neighbourhood to store them.
I also found some instances of street art, a surprising aspect of my walks. This seemed quite strange in an affluent area that places a lot of emphasis on keeping its walls and streets pristine. Mayfair has a high number of art galleries, and the piece below was found on the wall of a residence. This street art tells us of some sort of community activity and building and furthers the idea of a demographic, social, and behavioural change. It also becomes an important tool in wayfinding, as it can delineate space. This also demonstrates how wayfinding systems are not always formal, this art can be used in the future to help distinguish areas. This art is not regular, but it shows us that as the community evolves, the systems we use to find our way evolve as well.
During my time there, I also found multiple signs of selling office spaces in the area. The Westminster City council had, earlier, encouraged the conversion of office spaces into residential ones. However, in 2016, announced that “the council will work to exceed the target of additional floor space capacity for at least 77,000 new jobs”. This alongside the numerous counts of construction actively represent the changing faces of the neighbourhood.
What we find is that wayfinding infrastructure closely correlates with institutional distribution and that this infrastructure is built because of the meaningful relationships that people make with said institutions. So, maps and pedestrian crossings are found in a higher density in areas where there are more shops and are closer to adjacent neighbourhoods. But we also find that, if this relationship is true, the existing infrastructure becomes ineffective as the economy develops, changing people’s behaviours. More people are using bikes in an area that does not have the infrastructure for storing them. Here we learn two things, 1) economic development can change people’s behaviours, and 2) that wayfinding structures and their use (or misuse, such as with the pedestrian crossings) tell us this story.
Ultimately, the wayfinding issues in Mayfair, express not only issues with aligning infrastructure with existing behaviour but also is a useful signal in describing how the neighbourhood is changing. Understanding this relationship between wayfinding and people is important because it creates a context for how systems of navigation, much like other forms of infrastructure, are contextual and apply to varying space and demographics in different ways. In the process of developing societies, how do we help everyone find their way?
Jesus, Sergio Correa De. “Environmental Communication: Design Planning for Wayfinding.” Design Issues, vol. 10, no. 3, 1994, p. 32., doi:10.2307/1511691.
“Legible London – Applied Wayfinding.” Applied Wayfinding, appliedwayfinding.com/projects/legible-london/.
Mayfair Neighborhood Forum. Mayfair Neighborhood Plan (2018-2038), 2018, www.westminster.gov.uk/sites/default/files/mayfair_neighbourhood_plan_compressed_version.pdf.
Mayor of London. “Legible London System Architecture.” Legible London, 2010, www.mobilize.org.br/midias/pesquisas/londres-legivel-legible-london-system-architectur.pdf.
Moles, Abraham A. “The Legibility of the World: A Project of Graphic Design.” Design Issues, vol. 3, no. 1, 1986, p. 43., doi:10.2307/1571640.
Weldon, Jayne. “Who Lives in Mayfair 2015.” Wetherell, 3 Feb. 2017, wetherell.co.uk/market-reports/2015/lives-mayfair-2015/.
Westminster City Council. “Westminster’s City Plan.” Westminster City Council, 2016, committees.westminster.gov.uk/documents/s18840/App%208%20Westminsters_City_Plan_July_2016.pdf.