This is a fascinating article on urban design, the "grid," and what it might mean regarding our values as a society. Ok, the "values" part is mostly me projecting. But it does talk about the basic grid, and our move away from it, and I think that says as much if not more about our evolution as a society away from valuing humans vs. humans driving cars.
I recently taught the Ray Bradbury short story, The Pedestrian, which in typical Bradbury fashion subtly criticizes the human willingness to supplant actual experience, with virtual experience. The "Pedestrian" in the story is the only one who goes for walks in 2053, instead of watching his "viewing screen" and by the end is arrested for being "regressive."
In the past I've my students to consider their own neighborhoods and go for a walk and make some judgements about what house and neighborhood designs say about our cultural values. But if you look at virtually any house built pre 1950 there are some pretty obvious but implicit statements about cultural values you can make.
Anyway, below is an excerpt of the article:
Cities often celebrate the anniversaries of major pieces of transformative infrastructure, like bridges or buildings or dams. It's much more rare to celebrate the birthday of a design template. The bicentennial of Manhattan's street grid, which fell in 2011, was an exception. There was an exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York to mark the milestone. Countless articles from planners, architecture critics, and urbanists lauded the foresight of the city's street commissioners, who in 1811 laid down the plan that defines the island's development to this day.
On the occasion, the New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman, wrote this about the "oddly beautiful" grid:
It's true that Manhattan lacks the elegant squares, axial boulevards and civic monuments around which other cities designed their public spaces. But it has evolved a public realm of streets and sidewalks that creates urban theater on the grandest level. No two blocks are ever precisely the same because the grid indulges variety, building to building, street to street.
New York, of course, is not the only city built on a grid. Similar schemes could be found as far back as ancient Greece and Rome. But Manhattan's design was the exemplar for what became the default pattern of American cities.
Still, not all grids are created equal. Some shape a walking-friendly streetscape. Others, not so much. Over at the Strong Towns blog, Andrew Price, a software developer by day who blogs about urbanism, has been writing about the math of the grid and what it reveals about a city's economic productivity and walkability.
For over 12 Years I wrote the Reno Rambler Blog covering everything from Bicycle Advocacy, Reno Politics, Popular Culture, and my experiences as a long-time cyclist.