Sensory Mapping

“If we think of space as that which allows movements, then place is a pause.”
Yi-Fu Tuan – Space and Place

During our two-day conference in Manchester in November, delegates got the chance to try out Sensory Mapping at Manchester’s Wythenshawe Park. Sensory Mapping has been developed by the Sensory Trust as a tool to enable park managers, designers, landscape architects or community groups to evaluate a park or other piece of greenspace for sensory value.

Sensory Trust is concerned with the quality of experience for everyone who uses parks and open spaces. Sensory Mapping allows us to assess what a park has to offer to the five main senses, and also to record other feelings that a particular space evokes. It is a way for us to get away from view-dominated criteria for what makes a good park - the bench with a view of the pond - and to begin to make places that appeal across a broad range of senses. It is also a way to assess those peculiar, hard to define qualities that make some places special and other places scary.

Teams of four use a Sensory Mapping form to log sensory ‘hits’ and their positions on a sketch map. They can be moving through the park or be stationary. It’s important to note that for the most part this is not a subjective exercise: a rose smells like a rose, running water sounds like running water. The teams are not asked to make value judgements about the quality of the sensory hits, only to note them and their location. The value judgement section occurs when the teams are asked to describe any feelings they may have about a certain space: threatening, calming etc.

The end result of this placemaking exercise is a picture of the park in terms of its areas of sensory value. Places of sensory richness are easily identified from the resulting map. Seating, planting, design and access can be planned and prioritised accordingly.

In practice we have found that using the Sensory Mapping tool enables people to see their spaces in a new way. Parks managers begin to look at the positive aspects of their site, instead of only seeing those things that need repaired or replanted. Community groups begin to focus on the possibilities of their spaces instead of the lack of litter bins or the problems of dog mess.

Sensory Mapping is one of a suite of tools that form the Sensory Trust’s site evaluation tools. These allow managers to assess their current greenspace provision and to make informed decisions about maintenance, access audits, and their responsibilities under the Disabilities Discrimination Act.