Chart of the Day: Minneapolis Street Grid Orientation vs. Other US Cities

Here’s a cool project by Geoff Boeing, a planning postdoc in California.

Check out this street grid chart:

The tiny part the center is the river-oriented part of downtown Minneapolis, where the streets are aligned to the Mississippi instead of the ordinal directions.

Even better, Boeing made charts for a whole bunch of US cities. Here they all are:

Boeing writes about how the grid relates to urban navigation, using Kevin Lynch’s famous book Image of the City as a touchstone.

In 1960, one hundred years after Emerson’s quote, Kevin Lynch published The Image of the City, his treatise on the legibility of urban patterns. How coherent is a city’s spatial organization? How do these patterns help or hinder urban navigation?

Most cities’ polar histograms similarly tend to cluster in at least a rough, approximate way. But then there are Boston and Charlotte. Unlike most American cities that have one or two primary street grids organizing city circulation, their streets are more evenly distributed in every direction. For example, here’s Boston:

Boston, Massachusetts city street network, bearing, orientation from OpenStreetMap mapped with OSMnx and Python

Although it features a grid in some neighborhoods like the Back Bay and South Boston, these grids tend to not be aligned with one another, resulting in a mish-mash of competing orientations. Furthermore, these grids are not ubiquitous and Boston’s other streets wind in many directions. If you’re going north and then take a right turn, you might know that you are immediately heading east, but it’s hard to know where you’re eventually really heading in the long run.

I guess we should be thankful that Minneapolis and Saint Paul (and most of the rest of the Twin Cities) are grid aligned, for the sake of visitors. Personally, though, I love getting lost in Boston.

Bill Lindeke

About Bill Lindeke

Pronouns: he/him

Bill Lindeke has writing blogging about sidewalks and cities since 2005, ever since he read Jane Jacobs. He is a lecturer in Urban Studies at the University of Minnesota Geography Department, the Cityscape columnist at Minnpost, and has written multiple books on local urban history. He was born in Minneapolis, but has spent most of his time in St Paul. Check out Twitter @BillLindeke or on Facebook.