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What a Square Mile of a City's Grid Looks Like Around the World

An easy way to tell how long a city has been around is to look at it from above: modern cities tend to have wide, even street grids that are easy to navigate by car. Ancient cities like Rome, by contrast, look like a pile of spaghetti from a bird’s eye view. It’s not just an aesthetic difference—it’s fundamentally easier to walk around the small blocks of downtown Manhattan (where the Dutch first established a trading post in 1624) versus the wide lanes of Irvine, California, a master-planned suburb built in the 1960s. To get a better idea, check out these grid maps by UC Berkeley city planning researcher Geoff Boeing (as spotted over on FlowingData).

Boeing’s visualizations compare aerial views of different cities around the world through one-square-mile snapshots, created using an algorithm that pulls from OpenStreetMap. The unified scale of the visualizations makes it easy to quantify how walking around different places feels. City blocks differ in both size and shape. An aerial view of downtown Paris looks like a windshield that just had a bad encounter with a flying rock. A similar view of Portland looks like a chicken-wire fence. If you look closely, you can compare the width of streets and highways:

The maps also show where even the most uniform city grids are interrupted. Since the 1960s, Portland’s dense, walking-friendly blocks have had a giant highway cut through them. Atlanta, too, is a tangle of highways. San Francisco is filled with alleys, as is Tunis.

If you look at all of the grids, you can see the difference between cities that were meticulously planned and those that sprang up organically. Dubai and Sacramento look like they were drawn by a city planner’s pencil, but Osaka and Boston clearly expanded more haphazardly over the centuries. The symmetrical boulevards and diagonal side streets of Paris are the result of the 19th century plans of Georges-Eugène Haussmann, who was hired by Napoleon to help remake the city.

They are all a good reminder that the easiest cities to get around don’t always have the simplest maps. Rome may look like a tangle of winding streets, but that tight network is much easier to traverse than the very few streets that intersect in a square mile of Irvine’s street grid. And from street level, those tiny blocks tend to look a lot more interesting than big suburban intersections.

[h/t FlowingData]

All images courtesy Geoff Boeing

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Hubert Grimmig, Kultur- und Tourismus GmbH Gengenbach
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holidays
Inside the German Town Where Advent Is the Main Attraction
Hubert Grimmig, Kultur- und Tourismus GmbH Gengenbach
Hubert Grimmig, Kultur- und Tourismus GmbH Gengenbach

The German town of Gengenbach takes Christmas very seriously. So seriously that it counts down to the holiday with one of the biggest Advent calendars in the world.

Two decades ago, the town of 11,000 people on the edge of the Black Forest set out to bring in more tourists during the holiday season. So to make its holiday market more unique, Gengenbach began turning its town hall into a building-sized Advent calendar.

Now, every night from November 30 to December 23, the windows of Gengenbach’s Baroque city hall light up with artistic creations inspired by a yearly theme. At 6 p.m. each evening, the lights of city hall go up, and a spotlight trains on one window. Then, the window shade pulls up to reveal the new window. By December 23, all the windows are open and on display, and will stay that way until January 6.

Gengenbach's city hall lit up for Christmas
Hubert Grimmig, Kultur- und Tourismus GmbH Gengenbach

Each year, the windows are decorated according to a theme, like children’s books or the work of famous artists like Marc Chagall. For 2017, all the Advent calendar windows are filled with illustrations by Andy Warhol.

According to the Guinness World Records, it’s not the absolute biggest Advent calendar in the world. That record belongs to a roughly 233-foot-high, 75-foot-wide calendar built in London’s St Pancras railway station in 2007. Still, Gengenbach’s may be the biggest Advent calendar that comes back year after year. And as a tourist attraction, it has become a huge success in the last 20 years. The town currently gets upwards of 100,000 visitors every year during the holiday season, according to the local tourist bureau.

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History
The Secret World War II History Hidden in London's Fences

In South London, the remains of the UK’s World War II history are visible in an unlikely place—one that you might pass by regularly and never take a second look at. In a significant number of housing estates, the fences around the perimeter are actually upcycled medical stretchers from the war, as the design podcast 99% Invisible reports.

During the Blitz of 1940 and 1941, the UK’s Air Raid Precautions department worked to protect civilians from the bombings. The organization built 60,000 steel stretchers to carry injured people during attacks. The metal structures were designed to be easy to disinfect in case of a gas attack, but that design ended up making them perfect for reuse after the war.

Many London housing developments at the time had to remove their fences so that the metal could be used in the war effort, and once the war was over, they were looking to replace them. The London County Council came up with a solution that would benefit everyone: They repurposed the excess stretchers that the city no longer needed into residential railings.

You can tell a stretcher railing from a regular fence because of the curves in the poles at the top and bottom of the fence. They’re hand-holds, designed to make it easier to carry it.

Unfortunately, decades of being exposed to the elements have left some of these historic artifacts in poor shape, and some housing estates have removed them due to high levels of degradation. The Stretcher Railing Society is currently working to preserve these heritage pieces of London infrastructure.

As of right now, though, there are plenty of stretchers you can still find on the streets. If you're in the London area, this handy Google map shows where you can find the historic fencing.

[h/t 99% Invisible]

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