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

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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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Art
A Beached Whale Sculpture Popped Up on the Banks of Paris's Seine River
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In Paris, dozens of fish varieties live in the Seine River. Now, the Associated Press reports that the famous waterway is home to a beached whale.

Rest assured, eco-warriors: The sperm whale is actually a lifelike sculpture, installed on an embankment next to Notre Dame Cathedral by Belgian artists’ collective Captain Boomer. It’s meant to raise environmental awareness, and evoke "the child in everyone who still is puzzled about what is real and what is not,” collective member Bart Van Peel told the Associated Press.

The 65-foot sculpture has reportedly startled and confused many Parisians, thanks in part to a team of fake scientists deployed to “survey” the whale. One collective member even posted a video on social media, warning Parisians that there “may be others in the water” if they opt to take a dip in the river, The Local reported.

The whale sculpture is only temporary—but as for Captain Boomer, this isn’t their first whale-related stunt. Last summer, the collective installed a similar riverside artwork in Rennes, France, and they also once strapped a large-scale whale sculpture to the back of a truck and drove it around France.

[h/t Associated Press]

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App Gives Older People More Time to Cross the Street
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Crosswalk signals don’t take into account how quickly different kinds of pedestrians can walk across the street. But maybe they should. A new app currently being tested in the Netherlands allows older people to hold traffic for longer, allowing them more time to cross the street, according to The Guardian.

The Crosswalk app, made by the Dutch transportation technology company Dynniq, alerts traffic signals that someone with mobility issues is waiting. Using GPS and the software that runs the traffic signals, the technology helps traffic signals detect if someone using the app is standing on the corner. If so, the traffic signal’s timing will adjust accordingly.

The app has four settings so that people can adjust how much extra time they’re given, based on their individual needs. That way, someone who only needs a few extra seconds doesn’t leave traffic waiting forever while they’re already on the sidewalk.

The issue with creating a mobile app for older people, though, is that many of them might not be comfortable with smartphones. After advertising in the local paper and holding informational meetings, Dynniq was only able to recruit 10 people to test the app.

Still, there are other possible applications for signal-changing technology. It could be used more generally for people with disabilities or to increase safety during situations like when groups of schoolchildren need to cross the street. It could also be expanded to traffic itself, to create lights that are better timed for bikes (so that cyclists don’t have to start and stop every block) or to create green lights for emergency service vehicles.

Right now, the app is being tested in Tilburg, a city of about 210,000 people, but it's only in use in some areas of town. The current test will run into the fall. If it proves successful, the city will equip more traffic signals with Crosswalk in the future.

[h/t The Guardian]

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