Tag Archives: regular grid

Urban Patterns | Chicago, Illinois USA

“Come on, babe, Why don’t we paint the town? And all that jazz.
I’m gonna rouge my knees, And roll my stockings down,
And all that jazz.
Start the car, I know a whoopee spot, Where the gin is cold,
But the piano’s hot! It’s just a noisy hall, Where there’s a nightly brawl,
And all that jazz.”

— Bob Fosse’s Chicago: The Musical

Urban Patterns | Chicago, Illinois USA
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A

Chicago is the third-most populous city in the United States with over 2.7 million residents. It is also the most populous city in both the state of Illinois and the Midwestern United States. It is the county seat of Cook County. The Chicago metropolitan area often referred to as “Chicagoland” has nearly 10 million people. It is the third-largest metropolis in the United States (after New York and Los Angeles). In terms of wealth and economy, Chicago is considered one of the most important business centers in the world. The town of Chicago was organized in 1833 with a population of about 200 people near a portage between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River watershed. Within seven years it grew to more than 4,000 people. In mid-1835, the first public land sales began. The City of Chicago was incorporated in 1837. For several decades, Chicago was the fastest growing city in the world. Chicago was one of the five largest cities in the world by 1900. Before the growth of new Chinese cities during the early 21st century, the urban growth of Chicago during the 19th century was largely unprecedented in human history (Source: Wikipedia and The Syntax of City Space: American Urban Grids).

Satellite view from 90km of Metropolitan Chicago, Illinois in the USA (Source: Google Earth).

Chicago has the most pervasively-realized regular grid in the world. In fact, the scale of the regular grid in Chicago is so massive that it is almost impossible to truly appreciate its scale. From one extreme to the other, it is probably the size of southeast England or twice the size of the European country of Luxembourg. However, it is only by examining the Chicago urban pattern at this scale that we can truly appreciate that there is a distinctive center-to-edge logic to the metropolitan region; most notably along the alignment of the Chicago River/Stevenson Expressway from the Loop in a southwest direction out of the area. This center-to-edge logic is replicated at the large-scale in the northern metropolitan region as well along the alignment of old Indian trails, which were incorporated into the urban fabric as paved roads; most notably a series of diagonal streets associated with the Northwest Highway out of town towards the state of Wisconsin.

Satellite view from 25 km of Chicago, Illinois in the USA (Source: Google Earth).

When we zoom in on the Chicago urban pattern, the crucial role of the Chicago River as a water-based transportation artery in the city becomes much more obvious. So does the multitude of skyscrapers in the central business district of the Loop (north and west of Grant Park at the shoreline of Lake Michigan). We can also see the large building footprints of Industrial land uses gathered around the entire length of the Chicago River from the southeast into the center of the city and then northward. All of these topographical, geographical, and infrastructure components are woven together within the ‘relentless’ regular gridiron layout, which serves to privilege downtown Chicago (and, in particular, The Loop) within the larger urban pattern of metropolitan Chicago. This barely begins to scratch the surface of why the Chicago grid plays such a significant role in its magnificence as one of the world’s greatest urban patterns.

Urban Patterns is a series of posts from The Outlaw Urbanist presenting interesting examples of terrestrial patterns shaped by human intervention in the urban landscape over time.

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NOW AVAILABLE | The American City Track | Planetizen Courses

“The American City” Track (3.25 credits)
Many people see American cities as a radical departure in the history of town planning because of their planned nature based on the geometrical division of the land. However, other cities of the world also began as planned towns with geometric layouts so American cities are not completely unique. Why did the regular grid come to pervasively characterize American urbanism? Are American cities really different? “The American City” answers these questions and much more by exploring their urban morphology. In some ways, American cities are unique including a strong historical preference for geometric regularity in town planning, which endures to this day. However, in more important ways, American cities are still subject to the same processes linking street networks and human use found in all cities of the world.

Part 1: A Brief History of the Regular Grid
Part 2: The Invention of a New Scale
Part 3: Learning from the Grid
Part 4: Complexity and Pattern in the City

Featuring Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A. Click here to purchase this Planetizen Courses track.

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AVAILABLE | The American City | Complexity & Pattern in the City | Planetizen

The American City, Part 4: Complexity and Pattern in the City course featuring Dr. Mark David Major is now available from Planetizen Courses. The course is approved for 0.75 professional development credits with the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) and Congress for New Urbanism (CNU).

Watch an extended preview here.

The American City, Part 4: Complexity and Pattern in the City
The course discusses the design of the urban pattern in several American cities (Los Angeles, Chicago, Las Vegas, Seattle, St. Louis, Orlando, and Phoenix). The course examines: 1) the synergy between different scales of movement patterned into the urban grid, which contributes to the “urban buzz” of distinctive neighborhoods and places; 2) the large role that local topography plays in allowing, limiting, or denying certain possibilities for urban growth, due to the massive horizontal scale of American cities and the practical necessity of overcoming topographical conditions; and 3) the consequences of government regulations, Euclidean zoning, modern transportation planning, and suburbanization during the post-war period in generating a hierarchal grid logic to the American regular grid planning tradition. The implications of development patterns and land consumption unseen during the history of city building over the previous 10,000 years are discussed.

Click here to purchase the course by subscribing to Planetizen Courses.

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AVAILABLE | The American City | Learning from the Grid | Planetizen

The American City, Part 3: Learning from the Grid featuring Dr. Mark David Major is now available from Planetizen Courses. The course is approved for 0.75 professional development credits with the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) and Congress for New Urbanism (CNU).

Watch an extended preview here.

The American City, Part 3: Learning from the Grid
The course covers the formal composition and spatial process of the American urban grid. The course demonstrates a well-defined spatial logic to how American cities tend to evolve over time, conserving the importance of the “center” (e.g., historical area and/or Central Business District) in relation to the ever-expanding edges. By understanding these concepts, we can better understand how “bedrock” urban attributes (such as block size and dwelling entrances) and common growth trends (such as strip malls and leapfrog development) play a role in the spatial logic of American cities. The objective of this course is to better understand the spatial implications of design decisions when intervening in the American city.

Click here to purchase the course by subscribing to Planetizen Courses.

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AVAILABLE | The American City | Invention of a New Scale | Planetizen

The American City, Part 2: The Invention of a New Scale featuring Dr. Mark David Major is now available from Planetizen Courses. The course is approved for 0.75 professional development credits with the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) and Congress for New Urbanism (CNU).

Watch an extended preview here.

The American City, Part 2 | The Invention of a New Scale
The course covers subjects related to land consumption, which has been a defining characteristic of American town building almost from the very beginning of colonization until the present-day. William Penn’s 1682 plan for Philadelphia demonstrated town building could occur on a previously unimagined scale in the abundant lands of the New World. The course also compares the characteristics of block and street length in several American and European cities to demonstrate how Americans used the regular grid to build on a massive scale in the horizontal dimension of the city, which suburban sprawl has accentuated and abused since World War II. Finally, the course also discusses implications for sustainable cities in the 21st century.

Click here to purchase the course by subscribing to Planetizen Courses.

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