This exposition looked at how the mental images are connected to the production of space. It approached mental images as manifestations of the lived space, one of the components of Lefebvre's spatial triad.
A dataset of 37 mental images was analysed in the exposition by means of thematic coding and morphological analysis. The findings support two main claims:
- The way we remember space is active and transformative. We re-organise and re-imagine the space, creating our own coherent and legible environments, even if the physical space does not have enough cues to support this process. Body and senses play an important role in this process: in the absence of physical elements that help produce a strong mental image, the students organised their mental representations of space around embodied and sensory experiences.
- Movement in space affects the morphology of the mental representation. The more we move in the space, the more we understand the space as a coherent whole rather than a collection of connected or disconnected physical elements. Certainly, it helps us navigate the space better, but it also creates a foundation for a more active engagement with the space which can be seen as a form of appropriation or an alternative way of production of space.
Seen through the lens of these findings, the lived space of Lefebvre's triad (1991) is a space of potentialities — strategies and tactics that can subvert the dominant spatial order of the conceived space. Strategies as subtle as walking (Certeau, 1984) or more proactive such as tactical urbanism are examples of creative appropriation that highlight the role of citizens as producers of urban space (Rantanen & Faehnle, 2008).
By bringing the lived space to the attention of urban planning professionals and environment-behaviour scholars, this exposition argues against spatial determinism in planning practices:
Design and Planning professionals have long been influenced by belief in a physically and spatially deterministic power over people and the environment, a belief that their representations of space become space (Wolf & Mahaffey, 2016, p. 59).
It suggests that distorted, inconsistent and idiosyncratic mental images are more than a reduced schema of a physical environment. They support alternative re-imagining and catalyse the process of creative appropriation, enabling bottom-up urban transformation.
Methodologically, the exposition demonstrated the possibility of working with an unstructured set of mental images with the help of qualitative analysis techniques to analyse the connections between map, space and body. This method can be further expanded by combining map drawings with in-depth interviews and by including a wider sample of people into the scope of research.