Chart Your City's Street Network to Understand its Logic

The roads in your city might conform to a grid, or they might divert around natural resources or landmarks. A new tool aims to help you visualize the "hidden logic" behind urban growth.

1 minute read

August 14, 2018, 2:00 PM PDT

By Elana Eden


Geoff Boeing has developed a tool to visualize the consistency of a city's street network—what he calls the underlying urban "logic."

"It works by using an old geography technique: the 'polar' or circular chart. Boeing's tool calculates what percentage of a city's roads run along each section of a compass, and plots it on a circular bar chart."

Because the majority of streets in Manhattan, for example, align along a grid, its network is primarily encompassed in four long bars radiating out from the center of the circle. A few shorter bars represent the smaller portion of streets that don't line up.

Montgomery notes that a similar concept was created recently by data scientist Seth Kadish, but Boeing's adaptation made the model usable by anyone with knowledge of the programming language Python. Developer Vladimir Agafonkin built on Boeing's work to build a version for web browsers, so that "anyone can use a typical web mapping interface to visit any city or other region in the world and see a polar chart of its street grid."

"'It's a wonderful way to explore how cities are built; understand their hidden patterns and influences,' said Agafonkin. 'You can see where a road network was meticulously planned and where it grew naturally. [You can] see subtle connections like terrain, water bodies and nearby attractions influencing the direction of roads.'"

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