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Thread: Circular road network vs grid system

  1. #1

    Circular road network vs grid system

    Greetings!

    First of all, I will say that I do not have training in urban planning, and I'm just beginning to do some research because it's fascinating to me.

    I've had some ideas, I'd like to get some "expert" opinions:

    I envision town centers being "rounder", with roads spiraling out or in concentric circles. I realize this is not as "efficient", meaning you may not get from Point A to Point B in the fastest amount of time, but it would definitely add a more human and more social aspect to walking around town. The grid system of laying out roads and properties is, well, very square. I'm sure we can improve on it. It may be efficient, but it's not very livable.

    I'd really appreciate some feedback or even if someone could point me to resources about towns that are laid out in circles, or research regarding this subject.

    Thanks!

  2. #2
    Cyburbian KSharpe's avatar
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    I think you will find that most planners quite prefer the grid pattern. I'm not sure how you would do a series of circles throughout a city. How would you handle addressing? Also, you want a city to be safe and efficient. It's important for emergency vehicles to get places quickly.
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  3. #3
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    The original plan for Detroit after its great fire was very similar to what you are discussing. It was eventually abandoned for a modified grid/radial avenuel pattern as it proved difficult to get the owners of the ribbon farms to cooperate.

    I'd suggest you review the ideas of Johann Heinrich von Thünen and Walter Christaller.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  4. #4
    Thanks for the references.

    One thing I noticed was the emphasis on designing a town for market profitability. What I'd like to see is more urban design based on livability and real human needs. Yes, commerce is an importance part of our lives, but what of community needs as well? Not to be ignored.

    Anyway, one example of a city laid out in a circular pattern is Black Rock City, of Burning Man fame. Yes, it's a temporary place, existing only for a week or so, but it's quite an attractive layout and once you get used navigating it's easy to find your way around. I could imagine the Playa (the big open land in the front of the city) as the agricultural land.

    The reason I bring up this thread is because I just do not find grids to be human enough for us. They do not emulate nature but rather set an arbitrary structure over top of it. I'd like to explore the logistics of more organic urban designs. (Yes, I'm a big fan of round houses too).

    Thanks!

  5. #5
    Cyburbian CJC's avatar
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    Why is round more human, livable, or emulating nature more than square? Look back at what was built during times where commerce mattered less - they are not round, but rather chaotic - like medieval street patterns of Europe. A circle is no more chaotic than a square.

    Not sure if Black Rock City could be implemented on a permanent large scale anywhere...

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Plus JNA's avatar
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    About Black Rock City, I found this interesting discussion with layout graphics:

    Designing Black Rock City
    http://www.burningman.com/whatisburn...rc_growth.html
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  7. #7
    Cyburbian Streck's avatar
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    Then, there is the more "natural" way to develop city circulation. It is to follow the natural contours of the land. Follow stream beds, and cross them at natural points where the land slopes are gentle and streams shallow. Follow gentle inclines between hills - don't fight the land by arbitrarilary going straight up hills, just because a "grid" says you must, in order to "complete the grid."

    This is the way city circulation was originally formed - easiest for beasts of burden and their carts to navigate. Today it still makes sense when considering the natural flow of directing storm drainage and sewer flow - using pumping stations only when you must - and economy of transportation effort to get over a range of hills by following passes.

    We admire much of the naturalness of early medieval cities because of this natural charm. The only problem with early cities was that they could not forsee the need for massive circulation, and did not preserve enough land for transportation purposes. And poor planning practice allowed all of the natural pastorial areas to be absorbed for commercial use.

    Following the natural contours of the land (basically stream bed flow) would result in a "tree-like" pattern. This would not be an efficient way to manage "traffic" if every thing just went down hill, so there is a need to provide "connecting" streets, or a web-like structure for cross traffic. This is like the way leaves provide for nourisment to flow to all parts of its structure, or the interconnectivity of capillaries in blood flow. But it is not a "mechanical" superimposed grid.

    Yes, it doesn't have the "efficiency" of a "grid" (but even a "grid" is not totally efficient, in that diagonals are needed to be most efficient in getting from point to point).

    Of course you are going to have some "inefficiencies" in such a naturalistic approach to circulation, and there will be some odd "spaces" "left over." We call this charm, and humanism, and opportunities for "green spaces." Some in the current vernacular would derisively call this "sprawl." Others would appreciate it for what it is - an opportunity to preserve nature in our lives.

    I would much prefer the Olmstead approach to city planning based on nature than a grid. It is up to talented planners to insist on good planning techniques to optimize human space in urban settings. This is difficult to do, and there are even opponents to this way of thinking.

    Continue to explore Cyburbia, and especially some of the pictures that are posted here, and decide for yourself what a city should be like, and where you would choose to live.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    New Orleans is laid out on a semi-circular pattern (the other half of the circle being taken up by water). Thus the name, the Crescent City. That's one example you might look at. Also, the concept of a circular pattern providing access to an urban core is part of many cities' ring road highways - Washington DC, for example). I realize these are not residential streets, but worth thinking about how they impact access and mobility within an urbanized area.

    I think there are two big issues to consider in thinking about an alternate pattern for laying out a city. One is the efficiency with which people can be moved around, as has been mentioned (and I have no opinion on whether a circle or a grid works better). I also think there is a question of "navigability." How easy is it for users (residents or visitors) to locate themselves in space and find their way from point A to point B? I think the grid has been a favorite for this approach because there is usually a consistent relationship of the grid to the cardinal directions (even if they are not true N-S-E-W, the grid will always be in the same relation to these directions - more or less). But, perhaps the circle offers some other benefits that are not immediately obvious.

    I have noticed, though, that even in at least some Medieval cities, there often is an orientation to squareness, even if it is a bit lopsided due to its incremental construction and the geographic features of the landscape. The Laws of the Indies, a 15th century doctrine that guided Spanish town development in the New World is all about grids, with the plaza at the center. Its application, though, was often a bit messier, but the idea was still there.

    I think Streck is right on, though, that the concept of the grid can be taken to extremes now that we have the technological ability to flatten hills and such. I also much prefer patterns that work with the natural contours and drainage patterns of the landscape. In many cases, the interaction of the grid with predominant geographic features results in a pleasing environment that is the result of a complex dance between human settlement and the natural proclivities of the land itself.
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  9. #9
    Thank you both Streck and Wahday, for both of your very understanding and wise answers. I'm happy to know that attention is being paid to the natural world and that it is being observed as a guide for development rather than merely a canvas to be painted over and begun anew.

    We have much to learn about design, and we have many untapped sources.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    I defer pattern to topography. Both grids and other patterns [can be efficient. That said, I admire your research. Good luck to you!

  11. #11
    Cyburbian H's avatar
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    Grids make it easy to find a place. For example SW 5276 in Miami is the corner of SW 52 Ave. and SW 76 Street. I love the grid system for this reason, you almost can’t get lost! And if you go past a place just make a few right turns and your back where you started! There are plently of cut throughs when there is traffic, etc...

    I grew up in ATL, much more of the topography system, where things like Johnson’s Ferry Road runs off of Riverside Drive and then intersects with Sewell’s Mill Road just north of Lower Roswell Road (not to be confused with upper Roswell Rd, or just plain Roswell Rd!). Oh the humanity! I grew up there and still get lost when I go back!!! Give this planner the grid, thank you very much.
    "Those who plan do better than those who do not plan, even though they rarely stick to their plan." - Winston Churchill

  12. #12
    Cyburbian donk's avatar
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    Check the US patent office, someone has patented a design similar to what you describe.

    This thread discusses it, but the links have been broken.

    http://www.cyburbia.org/forums/showt...ht=subdivision
    Too lazy to beat myself up for being to lazy to beat myself up for being too lazy to... well you get the point....

  13. #13
    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
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    By way of introduction, let me start by saying that I’ve lived in communities with both broad shapes (Grid and radial). I’m not aware of any major city that is perfectly radial because that actually leads to some major geometric issues as you get very far or very close to the center. Typically, the main avenues of approach plus ring streets are roughly radial and the intervening space is laid out in grids that meet at angles to each other (sometimes messily).

    Quote Originally posted by Supernova View post
    One thing I noticed was the emphasis on designing a town for market profitability. What I'd like to see is more urban design based on livability and real human needs.
    I’m not sure I understand why you assume that a grid shape is designed for or even conducive to ‘market profitability’ or why you assume that a radial shape (for a whole city…) is automatically more livable. Could you explain?

    Quote Originally posted by Supernova View post
    Thanks for the references.
    The reason I bring up this thread is because I just do not find grids to be human enough for us. They do not emulate nature but rather set an arbitrary structure over top of it. I'd like to explore the logistics of more organic urban designs. (Yes, I'm a big fan of round houses too).
    Thanks!
    Perfect radials/round shapes are not particularly more ‘natural’, than squares. Both occur, albeit on different scales (both well-below city size. I’m also not sure why the geometric shape of natural objects is particularly preferable for human artefacts. Would a leaf-shaped or a starfish-shaped or an amoeba-shaped house necessarily work better than a rectangular one? I’m not sure

    [QUOTE=Supernova;411549]

    Some things I’ve personally experienced in terms of pros and cons:

    GRID Pros / Radial cons
    - Grids are easy to orient yourself in and to work around an unexpected obstacle (1-way street / accident / whatever); this is an important comfort factor, IMO, so actually more “human-friendly”. I find most real-life radial cities a bitch to navigate if you don’t know the city AND the specific area very well and I have a much better sense of direction than most.
    - grids are easily scalable up or down. Radial shapes require that as you move further out you keep adding roads (otherwise you get huger and huger blocks. In turn, that creates a lot of T-junctions which have issues. In real life, radial city streets intersect at all sorts of confusing/odd angles.
    - a limited set of radial and circular avenues can be superimposed on a grid with relatively small difficulty (you get some triangular lots, but that’s about it).
    - In a grid there is relative indifference to direction travelled, cross-town, up, down, it doesn’t make much difference. Again, it’s more comforting. Radial cities are great for in-out and around-in-a-circle but other directions (like straight across, can be tough.

    Radial pros / grid cons
    - Strict grids do not adapt well to rough orography
    - in bounded areas like coastline, foothills, etc., a grid is sometimes more awkward than curving roads.
    - Terminated vistas and interesting street shapes are harder to achieve with a grid.
    - It is harder to define a clear center with a grid and even regulating contiguity o development is geographically/geometrically more challenging.
    Life and death of great pattern languages

  14. #14
    Cyburbian Richmond Jake's avatar
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    San Francisco would look significantly different without its grid system that pays almost no attention to topography and leads to unparalleled (pun intended?), views of the Bay from streets and bay windows.

    Count me as a fan of grid systems.
    Annoyingly insensitive

  15. #15
    Thank you Luca for your detailed response. Now I understand more about the pros and cons.

    For me, the radial structure feels intuitively more walkable/bikable and enjoyable, at least for a small city. I say this because it seems like it's more interesting to *not* have a perfectly straight view down the straight (of course, San Francisco being a great exception to that!), that it would be somehow more interactive to have storefronts, gardens, and other pedestrians in the eye view, along the gentle curve of the streets.

    As for finding you way around a radial city, I like Black Rock City's simple method: The axial streets are named after the hours of the clock and the radial streets given names in alphabetical order. I admit this is very whimsical (which we could use some more of in our regular cities), but if you find yourself on any intersection (say, 3:30 and Freshwater), you'll quickly be able to visualize exactly where you are. You can easily find maps online by Googling Black Rock City.

    Also, I feel drawn to have cities/towns/villages designed with some principles of sacred geometry. Or dare I say Feng Shui. Basically, designed in keeping with principles of energy dispersion.

    Again, I understand that there are a lot of challenges in designed for growth and expansion, and that it's much easier to design creatively for smaller towns.

  16. #16
    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
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    For your info, some of the early designs for “garden cities” consisted of concentric rows or simply clusters of circular (radial) neighbourhoods. A small (I would think quite small, as in under 2000 acres) town is probably more naturally radial (with some ribbon development) than grid. The Grid works well for large towns/cities, I think. If you modify it with some garden squares and some ‘u-bends’, it can also look interesting. Lastly, don’t forget that a loose grid does not require super-straight roads but rather can have gently ‘sloping’ ones.

    I Suppose in theory (working with a blank surface) you could have a grid system for arterials/boulevards with a radial neighbourhood pattern superimposed on it…
    Life and death of great pattern languages

  17. #17
    Cyburbian b3nr's avatar
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    Interesting discussion, in terms of circulation, both work, as for finding your way around? How about people get maps? Cities that evolved naturally over a long period of time tend to have a mix of both, or more specifically irregular grids with important routes radiating from the centre and orbital routes at points further out. Maybe i'm being niave but i'd always just though that was how cities formed...

    I think Luca hit it on the head. There seems to be a tendency at the larger scale towards radial, in that the most direct way from city a to city b is a straight road rather than weaving your way through a network of grids, the radial routes become very important from a commercial and transit point of view. On the more local level formal grids are limited anyway, and the informal 'natural' grid system is what happened before strict planning and highways regulations. So the natural state of affairs would seem to be irregular grids at the local level with important radial routes leading out of the centre.

    Examples:
    Radial on a large scale, Machester: http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&hl=e...7955&z=12&om=1

    See here how the important routes radiate out of the city? Birmingham: http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&hl=e...5345&z=12&om=1

    Centrally planned of course, but a good example:
    Moscow: http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&hl=e...5069&z=11&om=1

  18. #18

    Amsterdam

    An interesting question that's generated a lot of discussion quite quickly!

    I would tend to agree with Luca that it can sometimes be more difficult to orient yourself in radial cities, and my instinctive preference is for a well-connected grid layout, adapted to the landscape where appropriate.

    I think the problem is that concentric routes. by definition, are always changing direction as you walk along them. This means it's difficult to keep a sense of where you are.

    When walking along grid systems, it's easy to keep an idea of whether you're going 'up' or 'down' or 'left' or 'right' on the map.

    Having said that, Amsterdam is still a beautiful city: Click here for aerial photo

  19. #19
    Cyburbian H's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by b3nr View post
    as for finding your way around? How about people get maps?
    But according to Miss Teen USA 2007 - South Carolina, so many of us here in America are map-less!!! [look it up on YouTube if not familiar, it is worth it]. It is very unfortunate.

    But seriously, I disagree with that sentiment, if you are saying that it is OK to have confusing streets because people can just get maps... that is sort of like saying it is OK for a computer forum to be complicated and non-user friendly because people can just use the operations manual when they log on… both true, but why make things more complicated than they have to be?
    Last edited by H; 07 Nov 2007 at 11:52 AM.
    "Those who plan do better than those who do not plan, even though they rarely stick to their plan." - Winston Churchill

  20. #20
    Cyburbian b3nr's avatar
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    Lol. Yes i am familiar with Miss Carolina

    Well I get round just fine on this god forsaken street layout... http://www.multimap.com/maps/#t=l&ma...England, BS1 2... If you find a single straight road in the whole city, i will give you 1,000,000 e-dollars.

  21. #21
    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
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    Well, London’s street lay-out is fiendish.. It’s not even really radial. It’s a sort of organic/medieval/random layout with sudden dead-ends, a major barrier/bottleneck inducer (the Thames in the middle of it) and several more such barriers/bottlenecks (several railroad liens flowing into the center).

    Where I work (edge of the City and East End, it’s actually amusing to chaperone people around. If you know the area you pop back out where they least expect it and there is a priceless look of confusion on their face…
    Life and death of great pattern languages

  22. #22
    Amsterdam and Moscow are quite beautiful! From everything I hear about Amsterdam, it is a *very* livable city.

    Again, here's Black Rock City. Yes, it is the 4th largest city in Nevada for only one week but there is definitely something to be said about the design. With street names laid out both alphabetically and along the hours of the clock, it's very easy to find your way around.

    Plus the fact that it is consciously designed to create a certain kind of energy. A forum for inspiration.
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails BRCMap.jpg   BRCphoto.jpg  


  23. #23
    Cyburbian
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    Look at the thread on cul de sac design and see the interesting hexagonal design in Malaysia. Then go Google Earthing and look at some of the designs in Egypt, Botswana, Brazil.
    There are many possibilities that are neither grid nor cirucular. Many of them imposed by physical constraints, others simply "by design" Even Wasington DC has its raidal components.

  24. #24
    Cyburbian CJC's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Monamogolo View post
    Look at the thread on cul de sac design and see the interesting hexagonal design in Malaysia. Then go Google Earthing and look at some of the designs in Egypt, Botswana, Brazil.
    There are many possibilities that are neither grid nor cirucular. Many of them imposed by physical constraints, others simply "by design" Even Wasington DC has its raidal components.
    Brasilia, with it's "airplane" design, is a very interesting city to tour and view - especially to see something that is NOT very liveable.

  25. #25
    Cyburbian
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    Growing up in Chicago, I am a little biased towards the grid. I find that much more satisfying, both for efficiency as well as finding one's bearings easily. In terms of transit, bus routes are easily understandable and easy to transfer from one to the other. Overlaying a radial rail and highway system to the grid I think provides very good results. Of course, topography, as mentioned, must be taken into account, as all cities are not designed well for the grid.

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