City centers, according to Google Maps

On my oh-so-few minutes of free time every week, I tend to try to enjoy myself with a relaxing activity. No, I tend to not play Call of Duty or crash on the couch to put on the latest episode of insert-much-acclaimed-AMC-show-here. Instead, I open the lovely Google Maps, search a random city, and drop the Street View on a random street to see what the life is like from the sidewalks.

Then on one fateful day last week, I thought it would be fun to do a subjective analysis of city conditions based on what Google Maps determines the “center” of the city is. This is determined by searching a city first, zooming into where the red pinpoint icon is, and dropping that omnipresent orange dude onto the closest corner. The results, although not entirely accurate, actually can give a good depiction of what the image if the city portrays.

Here is the example for Minneapolis: First, I search Minneapolis, MN in Google Maps, and then zoom in where the red dot is.


Then, I drop my Street View onto the corner of Hennepin and 1st Street, and rotate to display the location of the red pinpoint.

MPLS streetview


This is a view of Gateway Park, with the George Washington Memorial in the plaza. Although you may not think this is a good depiction of Minneapolis, keep in mind that this image hints at the city’s vast open space and extensive park system by providing a green, park-like foreground to the sleek skyline in the background. It also explores Minneapolis’s general walkability by displaying the various pedestrians in the area, as well as it’s established bike infrastructure, as seen along Hennepin.

On another hand, this method can attempt a swing and miss entirely. Here is the image for St. Paul below:



This is near the confluence of Interstates 35E and 94 Northeast of downtown. This image obviously does not do justice to St. Paul’s amazing sites, but does illustrate a good city planning history by showing the scar of urban renewal and urban highway construction near the city center.

Here are some other cities which I thought the Street View image of the city “center” exemplified an overall picture of the whole area:

Duluth, MN.  Keep an eye on the brick-lined streets, giving Duluth the old industrial-town-turned-tourist-attraction feel, as well as the elevating road behind it, portraying it’s situation on the Lake Superior hillside.




Rochester, MN. Notice the parking ramp for the Mayo Clinic to the right.



Denver, CO. This is just to the south and east of the Central Business District, but it shows a good image of the gorgeous State Capitol and it’s D.C. style museum set-ups around it.



New York, NY. A classic street intersection in Manhattan, showing huge density, a plethora of taxis, and a corner pharmacy under renovation.



San Francisco, CA. This shows the dense and transit-based layout of the City by the Bay, but ironically, pinpoints at a Honda dealership on Market Street.


Scottsdale, AZ. A perfect example of the palm tree-lined boulevards with strip malls and nice, clean cars everywhere. Organized ecological chaos at its finest.





Chris Iverson

About Chris Iverson

Chris Iverson is a transportation engineer & planner for the City of Bellevue, WA and currently lives in Seattle. He holds degrees in both Civil Engineering & Urban Studies from the University of Minnesota, and worked on a myriad of transit & multimodal transportation projects in the Twin Cities. He is a former Minnesota Daily columnist, RAGBRAI participant, bad musician, marathon finisher, and an unabashed generalist.