Chicago’s Second Gift to the World: A Rockin’ Grid System

For the next seven days, the Metroblogging sites around the globe will be unveiling seven gifts their cities share with the world – one gift a day for seven days. To see what the rest of the world is contributing, click here.

“Oh, that’s at 3200 North, and 800 West.”

There are grids, and there are grids. And then there is our Chicago street grid system. Established in 1908 and implemented in 1909, it’s been helping Chicagoans and non-Chicagoans get around town for almost 100 years. Any traveler can tell you that not all of the world’s cities are laid out in such a clear and easy to use manner. I myself have wandered down some curvy cobblestone streets in London and found myself in alleys named as streets that seemed to go in circles.

In Chicago, there are no such problems. With the streets arranged in the grid pattern, and a street numbering system that’s consistent all over the city, once you learn Chicago’s grid system, you’re good to go anywhere in town. Zero is at State and Madison, the very heart of our famous Loop, and 800 units on the system are equal to one mile (thus, 8 blocks = a mile). There, you’re all set to go wandering, find any building in the city, and find your way back to where you started.

Here you go world, here’s a city with a street grid system that anyone can navigate, making citizens and tourists feel at home. Don’t mention it.

Tags: Metblogs7Gifts

5 Comments so far

  1. jack (unregistered) on November 28th, 2006 @ 9:11 am

    Chicago’s contribution is something that was done first thousands of years ago and even in a modern sense was created in just as easy to understand terms (if not easier) in New York long before Chicago? Come on, you have got to be able to come up with better things for Chicago. At least something that actualyl originated in chicago.


  2. Dave! (unregistered) on November 28th, 2006 @ 9:31 am

    It may have been used in limited ways in places before Chicago, but Burnham’s Chicago plan really was a magnum opus.

    “Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood…”


  3. Scott (unregistered) on November 28th, 2006 @ 9:35 am

    Jack’s probably right that the grid system didn’t originate in Chicago, but New York’s grid is a bad example, I’m afraid. Just try to navigate NYC with the false assumption that the same building number on two different avenues is at the same point on the uptown-downtown continuum, or that the numbers on buildings relate in any easily grasped way to the numbered streets, and you’ll be thankful you live in Chicago.

    But I suppose we’re lagging behind places like Salt Lake City, where they dispense with names and just use the grid positions to refer to streets: 425 N. 600 West, for example.

    Scott, writing from about 6400 N. 1400 West.


  4. Artemis (unregistered) on November 28th, 2006 @ 10:07 am

    You’ll note I never said that grid systems originated in Chicago. We’re saying that Chicago’s grid system is unique and noted for its ease of use, and that’s the gift.


  5. Scott (unregistered) on November 29th, 2006 @ 9:59 am

    I think “unique” means “the only one like it.” Ours isn’t unique. Check Milwaukee, whose grid is very similar but improved, as the streets that are numbered are the north-south ones so the numbers can start at the river downtown and move west across the whole area, not just one side of town. Less memorization necessary of things like “Belmont is 3200 North,” which I agree is fun but more effort. Just about every address in Milwaukee involves or can involve a numbered street.



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