Sunday, January 9, 2011

A Brief History of Urban Form: Street Layout Through the Ages

J.H. Crawford

First published on


The pattern of streets and squares has a greater impact on a city than any other element of its arrangement. Patterns have changed frequently since the first cities were established 10,000 years ago. Changes are driven by a multitude of influences, of which the most important are: values, philosophy, systems of government, population size, artistic sensibility, design techniques, building methods, paving techniques, and transport technology. Many writers on urban form seem predisposed towards the rigid grid form and often find grids where they exist only in an approximate form. These same writers tend to associate grids with planning and design. They often assume that the absence of a grid is evidence of the absence of planning. The current author argues that the complex patterns of streets in medieval districts are neither random nor chaotic. It is further argued that the grid is less well suited to application in carfree cities than medieval patterns, which provide efficient radial routes to goods, services, and transport located at the center of the district. 

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The street pattern of old Groningen, The Netherlands, image by UrbanGrammar
The street pattern of Athens, image by UrbanGrammar
4-feet streets, photo by UrbanGrammar

more articles about the history of the city and planning:

Is India Aiming for Urban Sustainability?


Anglo-American town planning theory since 1945: three significant developments but no paradigm shifts

German geographical urban morphology in an international and interdisciplinary framework

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