Ministry requires more than knowing the names and locations of streets and highways in your city. Observations need to be made in multiple dimensions. Ideally, your map would have at least three layers: geographic (physical layout of the city), social (where people live work, shop, and play, how they behave and why), and spiritual (where/what people worship, revere, and fear).
Geography: Mapping the Space
The first step in developing a map is to plot physical locations in and around a city. In the 1960s, American urban planner Kevin A. Lynch conducted an extensive study of how urban dwellers navigate their environments and outlined what he identified as the five “elements” of the city. These were the most basic building blocks of a person’s understanding of the urban environment and have been used to great effect by missionaries and local church planters to help them understand the cities in which they find themselves. The following is a brief look at those elements:
Paths, nodes, districts, edges, & landmarks.
The familiar routes people follow. Paths are the channels along which people customarily, occasionally, or potentially move: streets, walkways, transit lines, canals, railroads, etc.
Paths are usually delineated with lines on a map—thick for major thoroughfares, thin or dashed for minor routes. Urban paths may include pedestrian walkways, alleys, bus routes, or subway and metro lines. Many modern cities were built along rivers and railways, which are also paths.
Paths are important because they limit an individual’s experience of the city and shape his perspective of it. If you want to relate to someone, follow his paths. For example, someone who gets around by subway may not be familiar with what’s above him on his underground journey. Consequently, he only knows the areas of town at either end of his commute; these are the areas that shape his understanding of the city and in uence him the most.
It is also important to consider the mode of transportation along a particular path. The same streets navigated by private car will provide a very different experience than for those traveling by bicycle. Mode of transportation will likewise affect one’s perception of distance along a path. A bus that stops every two blocks can make a street seem much longer than it actually is simply because it takes so long to traverse. For urban dwellers, distance is a relative concept.
Exploring different paths can help you become familiar with a city. Even if you minister in a city you’re extremely familiar with—the town in which you grew up—traveling along less-familiar paths will open your eyes to the experiences and perspectives of your neighbors. This exploration is where mapping begins.
The places where multiple paths intersect. These may be primary junctions, places of a break in transportation, a crossing or convergence of paths, moments of shift from one structure to another. A node is a distinct hub of activity: marketplaces, plazas, bus stations, or intersections.
Nodes are centers of activity, such as plazas, squares, metro stations, parks, business centers, or shopping malls. These places, according to Lynch, are “strategic spots in a city into which an observer can enter” and allow for interaction.6 Nodes are found at intersections, which are anywhere paths converge.
When paths cross, different sorts of people intermingle. At any given time of day, the wealthy and poor alike may be found standing together on a subway platform or street corner— something that is much less likely to happen at other points along a path. Nodes are important for gaining cultural insight because they provide the opportunity to see how these different people interact (or avoid interaction) with one another. Nodes are the best vantage points for people-watching.
Billboards, signs, and newsstands are usually found in nodes. Because nodes tend to be busy places, they are prime real estate for the dissemination of information. Organizations distribute iers and vendors advertise here for maximum visibility. Gossip, news, and social updates happen in and around nodes. Of course networking has had a great impact on the spread of information by essentially becoming an additional system of virtual nodes.
As people move into nodes, their behavior may change. Rather than traveling along a path and its predictable patterns for traffic flow and behavioral norms, the observer is thrown into a chaotic intermingling of multiple paths and the people using them. Consequently, people often enter a node with their guard up and their bags clutched tightly. Nodes may be a great place to disseminate information, but all the noise likely means they are not the best place to try to engage someone in meaningful conversation.