Grids and Neighborhoods

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7 Responses

  1. Avatar Sam M says:

    For some reason, I think it matters WHY the neighborhood is fractured. When I lived in DC, I hated the large diagonal avenues, which chopped up the grid and made it harder for me to figure out where I was. It seemed rather… arbitrary and contrived, like someonne was trying to confuse me on purpose. I feel the same about a lot of suburbia, in the ways they hid signage, even whole shopping centers, in such a way that only people form there can figure out how to buy a loaf of bread or get a gallon of gas.

    On the other hand, Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods are also extremely choppy and hard to navigate, but there is nothing you can do about that. The rivers and the mountains and all the rest. Othoganal is not an option. So for some reason, the choppiness feels more organic. (I almost said “authentic,” but I know how loaded that word can be.) So yeah, Bloomfoeld is different than Oakland and Polish Hill, not because someone said so, but because that’s the way it had to be.

    In a sense it gives the illusion, and helps preserve a mythology, that says there is nothing arbitrary about the built environment. There are forests. There are deserts. There is oxygen. There is Bloomfield. There is Polish Hill.Report

    • Avatar David Schaengold in reply to Sam M says:

      @Sam M, I think that’s exactly right. Worth noting, though, that in DC the diagonals don’t actually deform the grid, they just interrupt it. They would seem much less arbitrary, I think, if the number and letter streets actually tilted a bit between the spokes.Report

  2. Avatar Aaron says:

    I can see the appeal of the grid part of Manhattan — hell, I’m there right now. It’s very easy to navigate, and it’s true that it’s really easy to keep it in your head. However, I don’t think that anyone who’s walked around in the 30s would argue that the neighborhoods up there are more appealing than those below 14th Street (and above, say, Chambers). All those fractured grids make things hard to find, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Soho, the Village, all the neighborhoods down there have a wonderful walkability, too, but they have something that midtown doesn’t: discoverability. You are constantly running into little shops, little cafes, restaurants and bars that you didn’t know where there, tucked away into all sorts of weird little areas left over from the 19th Century. That’s not a bug, it’s a feature.Report

  3. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    It’s interesting- the idea of a map that I can hold in my mind with little effort sounds so totally boring. Cities are much more interesting when they’ve got contingency built into them. I need to be surprised by something unexpected down some little side street. I think this has to do with the fact that I walk nearly everywhere- your take might vary if you’re driving through a city.Report

  4. Avatar Kaleberg says:

    Actually, Soho is on the Manhattan grid. The grid doesn’t really break down until you get below Canal Street. Having lived in gridded areas (Jackson Heights, NY) and ungridded areas (Lexington, MA), I prefer gridded areas. You get the same neighborhood cohesion, but you don’t feel as forced to choke points. There is much more freedom to a grid and that leads to surprises, like little commercial areas, pocket parks and hidden architectural gems. When you break up the grid, the alternate routes go away, and you only get to go where THEY want you, and that cuts off the option of discovery.

    With a grid, you know you can go places. When you have a more complex pattern, whole areas are off limits. Sometimes this is intentional, as in suburban cul de sac planning. Sometimes it is a historical artifact of the original rural layout.

    Of course, a grid doesn’t work everywhere. Sometimes water and topography make a real grid impossible, but there is still an underlying travel metric. Instead of a grid’s north-south, east-west, you get coastal-inland upcoast-downcoast or highland-lowland. The real argument is whether the roads are about granting you access or denying it.Report

    • Avatar David Schaengold in reply to Kaleberg says:

      @Kaleberg, You’ve articulated the basic urbanist position in favor of a highly connected street network, which I agree with strongly. The question is whether the network should come in the form of purely orthogonal grid or rather a grid with some deformation or obstruction. The NYC analogue in this case wouldn’t be downtown but the West Village, which is basically a grid, with a few exceptions, but set at an angle against the main Manhattan grid.Report

  5. Avatar sthomper says:

    But it seems to me like slight deformations of the street grid are a powerful way of making neighborhoods less conceptually available without requiring actual barriers………….

    do you really seem that??? less conceptual availabilty??? ommm…ill conceive walking down a straight street though this culdesac makes it difficult. ???

    what is conceptual availability?Report

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