Grid cities seem amazing. In a tangled and historic mess of London’s roads, each and every road basically requires special knowledge – there aren’t general rules you can learn to help you figure it out. But wake up tomorrow in New York or Chicago, and you immediately know that a street’s a street, a block’s a block and the rest is just a matter of counting. “Oh, check out the sandwich shop on Little Britsmead, just off Mainway Avenue” is useless without a map. “Oh, check out the sandwich shop on 7th and 9th” is easy.
But here’s the problem: while it’s much easier to know where to walk, the actual experience of walking there is painful. I like to listen to music, walk and think. But in a grid, I’m forced to stop every minute to cross a road. And not a little road you can hip across with a quick glance – suddenly, every crossing point is an intersection. Just when you build up some momentum you’re forced to stop and wait for lights… it’s sorta like walking with a toddler. The most frustrating moment is when some lowly ambler, with a walking pace so pitiful it hurts, keeps catching up with you at each corner as you wait for the flood of cars to part.
So give me a medieval maze over this enlightened town planning. Its chaos holds a hidden charm.
This post brought to you by ‘Yes, I’m back in Chicago’. Proper updates to follow. Or maybe I’ll write about metro systems.