Grid plan

The grid plan is a type of city plan in which streets run at right angles to each other, forming a grid.


Ancient grid plans

The grid plan dates from antiquity; some of the earliest planned cities were built using grids. A workers' village at Giza, Egypt (2570-2500 BC) housed a rotating labor force, and was laid out in blocks of long galleries separated by streets in a formal grid. Many pyramid-cult cities used a common orientation: a north-south axis from the royal palace, and an east-west axis from the temple, meeting at a central plaza where King and God merged and crossed.

During the same period in history, Mohenjo-daro in the Indus Valley (present-day Pakistan) was built with blocks divided by a grid of straight streets running north-south and east-west. Each block was subdivided by small lanes.

Hammurabi (17th century BC) was a king of the Babylonian Empire who made Babylon the world's first great metropolis. He rebuilt Bablylon, building and restoring temples, city walls, public buildings, and building canals for irrigation. The streets of Babylon were wide and straight, intersected approximately at right angles, and were paved with bricks and bitumen.

The tradition of grid plans is continuous in China from the 15th century BC onward. Guidelines put into written form in the Kaogong ji during the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC) stated: "A capital city should be square on plan. Three gates on each side of the perimeter lead into the nine main streets that crisscross the city and define its grid-pattern. And for its layout the city should have the Royal Court situated in the south, the Marketplace in the north, the Imperial Ancestral Temple in the east and the Altar to the Gods of Land and Grain in the west."

The first planned Greek city was probably Miletus, built after 479 BC. Its gridded design has been credited to Hippodamus (although this may be apocryphal), a Greek intellectual associated with the Pythagoreans. The grid plan was a common tool of Roman city planning, based originally on its use in military camps known as castra. One of the most striking extant Roman grid patterns can be found in the ruins of Timgad in modern-day Algeria. The Roman grid is characterized by a nearly perfectly orthogonal layout of streets, all crossing each other at right angles, and by the presence of two main streets, set at right angles from each other and called the cardo and the decumanus.

Teotihuacan, near modern-day Mexico City, is the largest ancient grid-plan site in the Americas. By 150 AD, the city's grid covered eight square miles.

Asia from the first millennium AD

As Japan and the Korean peninsula became politically unified in the 7th century AD, those societies adopted Chinese grid-planning principles in numerous locations. The ancient capitals of Japan, such as Fujiwara-Ky˘ (694-710 AD), Nara (Heij˘-Ky˘, 710-784 AD), and Heian-Ky˘ (794-1868 AD) used grid plans. So did Kyongju in Shilla (present-day Korea), also of the same era. The grid-planning tradition in Asia continued through the beginning of the 20th century.

Europe and its colonies

New European towns were planned using grids beginning in the 12th century, most prodigiously in the bastides ( of southern France that were built during the 13th and 14th centuries. Medieval European new towns using grid plans were widespread, ranging from Wales to the Florentine region. Many were built on ancient grids originally established as Roman colonial outposts.

The Roman model was also used in Spanish fortification settlements during the Reconquista of Ferdinand and Isabella. It was subsequently applied in the new cities established during the Spanish colonization of the Americas, after the founding of La Laguna (Canary Islands) in 1496. In 1573, King Phillip II of Spain compiled the Laws of the Indies ( to guide the construction and administration of colonial communities. The Laws specified a square or rectangular central plaza with eight principal streets running from the plaza's corners. Hundreds of grid-plan communities throughout the Americas were established according to this pattern, echoing the practices of earlier Indian civilizations.

The grid plan became popular with the start of the Renaissance in Northern Europe. In 1606, the newly founded city of Mannheim in Germany was the first Renaissance city laid out on the grid plan. Later came the New Town in Edinburgh, and many new towns and cities in Australia, the United States and Canada.

Early United States

Arguably the most famous grid plan in history is the plan for New York City formulated in the Commissioners' Plan of 1811, a visionary proposal by the state legislature of New York for the development of most of upper Manhattan.

Often, some of the streets in a grid are numbered (First, Second, etc.), lettered, or arranged in alphabetical order. (Washington, DC has examples of all three).

In the westward development of the United States, the use of the grid plan was nearly universal in the construction of new towns. One of the largest advantages of the adoption of grid plan was that allowed the rapid subdivision and auction of a large parcel of land. For example, when the legislature of the Republic of Texas decided in 1839 to move the capital to the new site along the Colorado River, the functioning of the government required the rapid population of the town, which was named Austin. Charged with the task, Edwin Waller designed a fourteen block grid that fronted the river on 640 acres (2.6 sq km). After surveying the land, Waller organized the sale of 306 lots nearly immediately, and by the end of the year the entire Texas government had arrived by oxcart to the new site.

The use of the grid on the American frontier was not, however, strictly functional. In the case of Austin, Waller designed a broad north-south thoroughfare, Congress Avenue, that bisected the grid leading up from the river to the site where the new Texas State Capitol was to be constructed. The main east-west thoroughfare was Pecan Street, later renamed Sixth Street. The two thoroughfares have remained the primary arteries through downtown to this day, illustrating a successful adaption of the Roman plan to the New World.

Late 19th century to the present

Ildefonso Cerdß defined a concept of urban planning, based on the grid, that he applied to the Barcelona Eixample.

In the United States, the grid system was widely used in most major cities until about World War II. During the development of suburbia in the early 1950's, America and parts of Canada abandoned the grid system in favor of a more sprawled, winding and less uniform style of street. This new style of development has persisted until this day. So-called smart growth, however, provides other options for those who do not want a new house in a suburban-style road plan.


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