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Elegant Graphs Reduce 25 American Cities to Their Design Essence

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The following is an excerpt from HENRY GRABAR | July 11, 2018 | Slate.com |

Geographer Geoff Boeing, an urban planning postdoc at UC Berkeley, has found a way to represent a city in a handy visual shorthand. By downloading and crunching municipal boundaries and street networks from OpenStreetMap, Boeing has assembled handy histograms that show the distribution of the orientations of a city’s streets around the points of a compass.

Consider the exceptionally gridded terrain of Tampa, Florida, where nearly every street runs north-south or east-west. As a histogram, it’s a perfect compass.

First, though, the easy stuff: Grids predominate in American cities. Some of the older ones east of the Ohio River—Manhattan, Philadelphia, Washington D.C.—were built by forward-thinking city planners. Others were shaped by Thomas Jefferson’s imposition of a rectangular grid, which made it easy to distribute, sell, consulate and speculate on land. That Jeffersonian grid is visible from any airplane crossing the agricultural terrain of the Great Plains, but it’s also easily discerned in the urban terrain of Southern California. (And lots of other places too!)

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