Hosea Paul

Journal of the Association of Engineering Societies 3 ([April] 1884):87-97

In this review of land surveys in the U.S., the author included on pages 95-96 this brief passage on the merits of the gridiron street system and his reasons for opposing the use of "spiderweb" patterns of urban thoroughfares:
The principle of rectangular division was adopted at a very early period in laying out American cities, the most noticeable exception being in Boston. New York, Philadelphia and Chicago are laid out with great regularity, and even in Boston the newer parts are laid out in the same fashion. In the western cities the public land system affords an excellent basis. In Chicago, for instance, many of the well known thoroughfares, such as Madison, Twelfth, Twenty-second, State and Halsted streets and Ashland and Western avenues are upon section lines, and many of the other streets are upon regular fractional divisions of them.

The rectangular system has been criticised mainly from its lack of convenience when it is desired to take a diagonal course, and on account of its supposed offense to an artistic or aesthetic taste. To meet this latter objection, some towns, mostly suburban, have been laid out, an instance in point being Riverside, near Chicago, where the lines of the streets are made up of curves something in the manner of the walks and drives in a park or cemetery. However well such an arrangement might suit for residences with ample grounds it might be quite another things for small lots and business centres. It would at least require greatly increased care in making the surveys, or the restoration of lost lines be very difficult and uncertain.

Some writers urge that the web of the spider offers us a most admirable plan, and the national capital has been laid out with some reference to this theory; another instance being the little city of Watertown, New York. In Cleveland there is also something of the same sort, though fan-shape would perhaps better describe the flare or gradual divergence from parallelism exhibited by Superior, Euclid, Garden and Woodland streets and avenues. If it were a fact that every one must daily or constantly go to a certain point--say, for instance, to the post-office--no arrangement could be better, and anything else would be so exasperating as to force the opening of new avenues to bring it about.

Such is rarely, however, the case. The business and manufacturing interests of a modern city are often widely scattered, and rarely tend to a common focus so definite as to require any such arrangement. There are east sides and west sides; north ends and south ends; uptown and downtown; water fronts and railroad fronts--each with it own interests and attracting its special following. 

Selected, scanned, edited, provided with headnotes, and formatted as a web document by John W. Reps, Professor Emeritus, Department of City and Regional Planning, West Sibley Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853, USA. Tel: (607) 255-5391, Fax: (607) 255-6681, E-mail: 
To Top of Page
To Homepage