• Ongoing coronavirus / COVID-19 discussion: how is the pandemic affecting your community, workplace, and wellness? 🦠

    Working from home? So are we. Come join us! Cyburbia is a friendly big tent, where we share our experiences and thoughts about urban planning practice, planning adjacent topics, and whatever else comes to mind. No ads, no spam, no social distancing.

Reading Maps To Guess On Growth

Bear Up North

Cyburbian Emeritus
Messages
9,329
Points
31
This Bear is not a planner. However, I get the feeling that many planners enjoy looking at, reading, poring-over.....maps. Some of that is due to your profession; you have to to do your job. But....how many of you just read 'em for fun?

This Bear does.

Big collection of DeLorme state maps....("Be the first kid on your block to collect them all!").

Something I have noticed.....I can pick out the high-growth areas and make (what I believe to be) very reasonable guesstimates on sprawl locations.

Take California or Colorado, for example.

Looking at the detailed maps of cities and towns you immediately notice the outlying areas with nothing but curvy roads and cul-de-sacs, even with flat terrain. Pretty easy to guess the growth area. But if you look toward city centers you see the "old" method of road planning.....grids, grids, grids.

Cities that have grids and very few of the curvy roads are not growing.

In the California and Colorado examples you see a lot of growth. Then, pull out the Ohio or Michigan map book. A place like Toledo still has a small share of those curvy puppies......but when I say small share.....I mean SMALL share.

Then, it's pretty easy to guess the sprawl roads......most often adjacent to a boatload of the curvy guys, adjacent to an expressway interchange, adjacent to another major crossroad.

You can almost see the top of the Wal-Mart.....

Bear Reading Them Maps Again
 

Cardinal

Cyburbian
Messages
10,080
Points
34
Oh yeah, that's the stuff... better than se... um, no, forget that. Still, I love those maps. Excuse me while I get out an atlas and figure out an interesting route to Colorado.
 
Messages
7,649
Points
29
We have a road atlas where every major road trip we have made as a family is recorded in different colored markers. My kids learned geography by having mom give running commentary* on said trips: "We are heading East on I-whatever and just crossed the border out of X state into Y state. This city is such-and-such. Note the Blah Blah distinctive building...."

When my youngest was 3, he saw a picture of the Saint Louis Arch and began exclaiming "Saint Fewis! Saint Fewis!!" :-D








*I bet that shocks no one, that I can give running commentary for 2500 miles. :-}
 

simulcra

Member
Messages
127
Points
6
I abuse the free maps as a part of my AA (EDIT: I mean AAA, whoops) membership. Unfortunately, many of them are in dire need of overhaul instead of just reprints ("2004" Portland doesn't even have the red line on it). Still, I do love pouring over maps and studying urban geography. Whereas some other people in my dorm put up "Fight Club"/Monet/Peace posters, I like plastering my walls with maps. Even though I occassionally the blank stare from a visitor, the way maps are colored do add a nice flavor to a room to which many other posters can't compare.

If I get a map of a city with which I'm not familiar, I like guessing whether the "suburbs" were actually towns that fell into a conurbanation of the metro area or were actual bedroom split-offs from the city. It was a pleasant surprise for me, for example, to realize that Seattle isn't surrounded completly by bedroom-community sprawl and that Bellevue is a legitimate city (albeit with lots of sprawl) instead of a Plano: Dallas::Bellevue:Seattle analogy.

I also like trying to figure out (or learning with the help of history guides or the ever-faithful wikipedia) how the city developped. Like Streeterville in Chicago or Ladd Square in Portland... both which I noticed due to their difference in the urban layout.

Moreover, there's just some terribly fascination with maps that I have in general. I also love transit maps (diagrams of the Tube, NYC's metro, Chicago's CTA... all over Maxim anyday). Airport layouts, too (although not quite to the same extent).

I suppose it's my dark, dark, dark geeky secret.

Although, this strange interest of mine did come in useful for UChicago's annual ScavHunt. (If you're curious, click here.) Despite getting only 4 hours of sleep over three days, I was able to coordinate, from our home base in my dorm's "war room", a vast trek for a team of 4 roadtrippers to the atlantic coast (and Atlantic City). (One of the things of which we were proud: our team took Princeton's only copy of "Eudaemonia", and one of only 12 in the nation, as one of the ScavHunt items.) Plus, it turns out to be a very interesting way to meet up with people. (Me: "Hey, you have a map of New York's metro!" Girl: "Yeah, I love maps." Me: "Woah, me too...")
 

boiker

Cyburbian
Messages
3,889
Points
26
i always do this as well....read maps and compare grid vs. suburbs.

Looking at a map of Peoria drives me crazy. The population is virtually the same as 50 years ago, however the developed area of the town has doubled. There is a very abrupt transition point as well.

It's amazing how much development has changed with the advent of interstates and cheap gas.


Edit: I tend to get state maps and then draw all over them. Since they are road maps I'll project development for communities based on proximity to major interstates, emerging economies, proposed roadways, and what I know about area growth in those communties. One of my scenerio's had urbanized Chicagoland in a radial pattern extended almost 90 miles from the city center by 2050. This was of course assuming constant growth rates, continued automobile use and reasonable fuel costs.
 
Last edited:

Chet

Cyburbian Emeritus
Messages
10,623
Points
34
I have a latent map fetish myself.

For a while I was collecting sanborn insurance maps and even based a very large N-scale model railroad on one of the cool ones.

I was aghast when I found out my mom threw out an old world atlas from 1971 because "alot of those places dont exist anymore so what good is it"

The only thing better is an ortophotograph with cadastral overlay. (at NHPlanner's resolution) *drool*

[paraphrased steven wright]
I bought a US map the other day. The scale is one foot equals one foot. Its a b*tch to fold... [/paraphrased steven wright]

boiker said:
Looking at a map of Peoria drives me crazy. The population is virtually the same as 50 years ago, however the developed area of the town has doubled. There is a very abrupt transition point as well.
[ot] Save me the google. :-D Out of curiousity, what has been the change (decrease) in local household size in that time period. Freeways aside, changing household composition as it relates to a community's total population and land consumption has always intereted me... not enough to google, just a mind interest! [/ot]
 
Last edited by a moderator:

boiker

Cyburbian
Messages
3,889
Points
26
Chet said:
[ot] Save me the google. :-D Out of curiousity, what has been the change (decrease) in local household size in that time period. Freeways aside, changing household composition as it relates to a community's total population and land consumption has always intereted me... not enough to google, just a mind interest! [/ot]
[ot]
/hijak
chet

Peoria
Household size 1970 3.08
Household size 1990 2.55
Peoria decreased from 3,643 to 1,877.3 persons per square mile from 1960-1990

Single Parent Households 1970 9.1%
Single Parent Households 1990 23.4%

Urban Area Land Area growth 1960-1990 150%
Urban Area Population growth 1960-1990 39%

Peoria experienced what most other industrial cities experienced. There was an abrupt decline in well-paying blue coller jobs, there was a sudden fear of the inner city schools, new homes were being constructed in the "good" school district and commuting wasn't a problem with reasonable fuel prices. Now, a significant amount of the inner city is poor, lower class and troubled.[/ot]

Edit: Last bit of info. The sprawl in Central Illinois is worse than the Chicago area. Champ/Urbana, Peoria, Bloomington/Normal, all sprawled at a greater rate than the Chicago metro area. What concerns me is that Central Illinois IS the prime farmland.
 
Last edited:

Super Amputee Cat

Cyburbian
Messages
2,251
Points
30
Chet said:
I have a latent map fetish myself.

For a while I was collecting sanborn insurance maps and even based a very large N-scale model railroad on one of the cool ones.
I love Sanborn Maps! I use them at work all the time. However, ours are just second generation microfilm (I made over 800 copies - all of Toledo from 1888 to 1905 a few years ago when visitiing the Library of Congress).

Do you actually have originals?

boiker said:
[ot]
/hijak
chet

Peoria
Household size 1970 3.08
Household size 1990 2.55
Peoria decreased from 3,643 to 1,877.3 persons per square mile from 1960-1990

Single Parent Households 1970 9.1%
Single Parent Households 1990 23.4%

Urban Area Land Area growth 1960-1990 150%
Urban Area Population growth 1960-1990 39%

Peoria experienced what most other industrial cities experienced. There was an abrupt decline in well-paying blue coller jobs, there was a sudden fear of the inner city schools, new homes were being constructed in the "good" school district and commuting wasn't a problem with reasonable fuel prices. Now, a significant amount of the inner city is poor, lower class and troubled.[/ot]
These statistics could easily describe Toledo as well. The single-parent stat probably says more than even the latter in terms of central-city ills. Probably a lot worse now. After all, 1990 was almost 15 years ago now.

Bear Up North said:
This Bear is not a planner. However, I get the feeling that many planners enjoy looking at, reading, poring-over.....maps. Some of that is due to your profession; you have to to do your job. But....how many of you just read 'em for fun?

This Bear does.

Big collection of DeLorme state maps....("Be the first kid on your block to collect them all!").

Something I have noticed.....I can pick out the high-growth areas and make (what I believe to be) very reasonable guesstimates on sprawl locations.
Actually, the DeLorme maps are not as updated as the date of publication may indicate. The Ohio atlas was revised within the last three years I believe, but except for a couple of minor updates (e.g. denoting the University Parks bike trail) most maps are still based on the most recent USGS survey maps, which for most of Toledo was almost 20 years ago.... (Take a look at Sylvania Township. Most of the streets built after 1986 are not there, such as St. James Woods)

Other parts of the Ohio map or other states may be more updated, but I submit its only because the original USGS maps have been updated in those regions also.
 
Last edited by a moderator:

JNA

Cyburbian Plus
Messages
25,807
Points
61
When I was in Grad school, I worked (Volunteered) in the Colorado State Parks office in Denver, where I was involved in the research, content and layout with the then 4 Urban Trails Maps (Denver Metro, North Front Range, South Front Range, and Mountain and Western Slope) that were printed by the Lottery and distributed free.
I stayed through 3 annual updates, talk about maps changing.

When I am driving on vacation I always stop at State information centers to check out local maps.
 

Lee Nellis

Cyburbian
Messages
1,369
Points
29
Fascination with maps may be the one thing all planners share. I have thousands of them in storage in Colorado.

Cardinal: the most interesting place between you and Boulder is the Sandhills of Nebraska.

Speaking of this: has anyone bought maps from TopoDepot? And if so, how did they work for you?
 

Cirrus

Cyburbian
Messages
303
Points
11
It depends what part of the country you're looking at. East Coast cities often have more medieval street patterns, and more romantic (that is, curvy but connected) grids. Western cities, OTOH, often have their arterial streets arranged in a grid even if the local streets are curvy.

... And if you really know your stuff you can get more detailed. Take Colorado, for instance:
  • If the grid is off-center, following a natural feature such as a river, it's older than if the grid is strictly north-south. Originally the cities were laid out along natural features, but later conformed to the Jeffersonian national grid. (see downtown Denver, Boulder and Pueblo)
  • Rectangular blocks are newer than square blocks. Some places are all one or the other, but if there are both then square blocks are usually the old walking city while rectangular blocks are streetcar neighborhoods. (see downtown Boulder versus University Hill Boulder)
  • Curvilinear romantic grids that are "suburban" but don't have cul-de-sacs are post World War II, but no later than the 1970s. (See Del Mar in Aurora or South Boulder)
  • Cul-de-sac neighborhoods date from the 1970s-on.
  • ... Then you've got the new urbanist grids popping up that are often similar to the pre-war Romantic grids, but rectilinear instead of curvilinear.
 

Gedunker

Moderating
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
11,491
Points
41
Okay, I love maps as well, and like Bear, used to draw imaginary cities as a kid (although I wasn't blessed with the dedication Bear has to De Noc) but now this will get really geeky: I love reading maps of foreign cities, printed in native languages. I have some Baedekker's maps of Belgium, Germany, Poland, and Norway that are just really cool.

We recently got the 1905 color, hard-bound original with multiple pasted updates, of our city's Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps. I am always impressed with Sanborn's accuracy, from building footprints to rights-of-way widths, they are batting .999 accuracy.
 

DecaturHawk

Cyburbian
Messages
880
Points
22
My love of maps is why I am a planner. I started collecting city maps when I was a kid, getting them free at the gas station or from the local chamber of commerce on family trips. As I got older, I started buying them from bookstores and sending letters to CVB's begging for free maps. I have also always picked up the latest official state highway map anytime I cross a state line. I have become a collector of official maps from Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa and have, among others, a 1930 Illinois Secretary of State road map in pristine condition. I also love any city map by the J. Foster Ashburn Map Company, which was located in Fort Worth and folded sometime in the 1980's. I have Ashburn's from the 1930's on up. Ebay has been a good source for old maps; unfortunately, as eBay has opened up the hobby to more collectors, the prices have also risen. There is also an association of collectors: Roadmap Collectors of America. I probably own about 900 maps of cities, mostly in the US, but also some Canadian and European cities (European maps are decidedly different from ours).

Like the rest of you, I love to pore over city maps and get some sense of how the city has grown, how the suburbs have evolved, how topography affects street patterns, etc.

Chet said:
For a while I was collecting sanborn insurance maps and even based a very large N-scale model railroad on one of the cool ones.
Now that is cool.
 

Chet

Cyburbian Emeritus
Messages
10,623
Points
34
SAC - no I didnt have the originals, but work did. I kept photocopies for my use. The town was great - a city (actually 2 competing cities) that sprang up on opposite sides on a river at a rapids which required fur traders to portage their canoes. Picture your community with TWO downtowns! When the railroads came the cities had a steam engine factory and a roundhouse. Unfortunately they were cleared in an early 1970's renewal binge.
 

Super Amputee Cat

Cyburbian
Messages
2,251
Points
30
Chet said:
SAC - no I didnt have the originals, but work did. I kept photocopies for my use. The town was great - a city (actually 2 competing cities) that sprang up on opposite sides on a river at a rapids which required fur traders to portage their canoes.
What city is it? Or is it a secret?

Picture your community with TWO downtowns! When the railroads came the cities had a steam engine factory and a roundhouse. Unfortunately they were cleared in an early 1970's renewal binge.
Actually, Toledo itself had two downtowns at one time. The city is the result of a merger between two competing river towns - Port Lawrence and Vistula - who merged in 1834 under a new name Toledo. Unfortunately, no commercial buildings survive this era, but if you look at a map of downtown and Vistula, two distinct downtown grids can still be discerned.

I don't have any original Sanborn maps either, but I do have an original atlas of Toledo from 1913 and 1929. They are smaller scale than Sanborns, but still large enough to show footprints of most buildings. You just can't tell if it's a single family (D), multi-family (F) or commercial (S). I also made color copies of plates of earlier atlases from 1881 and 1891.
 

JNA

Cyburbian Plus
Messages
25,807
Points
61
In our office we have 1944 Sanborn's and a reproduction of the1880 Griffing's Atlas
besides having City Directories Bennett's from 1935 to 1964, Polk's 1964 to present. This is another way to track growth by annexations.
We also have Aerial Photos done in 1956.
 
Messages
1,264
Points
22
I read maps for fun all of the time. One of my favorite possessions is my Rand McNally atlas. I look at cities that I never even been too. This helps me a lot, when I go on road trips. I'll study a particular city's map, i.e. NYC before I go on that trip. I rarely get lost. I might get turned around or miss an exit, but I rarely get lost. It doesn't hurt that I'm also a planner and understand how streets and development work.

"Looking at the detailed maps of cities and towns you immediately notice the outlying areas with nothing but curvy roads and cul-de-sacs, even with flat terrain. Pretty easy to guess the growth area. But if you look toward city centers you see the "old" method of road planning.....grids, grids, grids".

Omaha could be tricky. You could definitely tell where the growth is. However, Omaha used to have center city growth. Omaha once was five separate independent city and towns: Omaha, South Omaha, Dundee, Benson and Florence. The street pattern doesn't really change but amenities can. My old neighborhood didn't have alleys or sidewalks on some streets. It was a growth area between the northern edge of the City of Omaha and the southern edge of the Town of Florence. There were also five city/town halls. All of the original buildings are still there with the exception of the City of Omaha.
 

Mud Princess

Cyburbian
Messages
4,898
Points
27
I love looking at maps too. It's kind of a dangerous thing, because I can lose track of time while viewing them (not good when you have to worry about billable hours!).

I have several historic maps on my walls at home, including one of my town from the 1800s (a reproduction) that gives the names of major property owners. I also ended up with a bunch of circa 1950s USGS quad maps of my state. Those are really interesting, because they predate the construction of the interstate highways that stimulated suburban development.
 

Dan

Dear Leader
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
18,707
Points
69
It's kind of depressing looking at maps of Buffalo from the not-so-distant-past -- the 1960s through the 1970s. Old street maps showed all the railroad lines that aren't there anymore; the Conrail consolidation hit Buffalo especially hard, since the consolidation merged most of the railroad companies serving the area, resulting in hundreds of miles of redundant routes, years and right-of-way). Also unlike today, old street maps showed the routes of proposed roads. A map from the 1970s would show a partially-completed expresway system, but you would also see dashed lines showing where the highways of the future would be built. Sometimes, the proposed highway numbers would be displayed. As a kid, I imagined growing up and driving on the Lockport Expressway all the way to Lake Ontario, the Crosstown Expressway, the Lancaster Expressway, the Outer Belt, and many other highways that were never built.

If you wanted to do some real urban archaeology, you would look at maps from the 1920s. One I saw showed all the streets in the Town of Tonawanda laid out, almost exactly as they are today, even though development didn't take place until the 1950s and 1960s. Apparently, those streets were platted -- and many built -- in the 1920s, but the Depression put an end to plans for development. Today, if you drive down a straight, long block in Tonawanda, you might see a 1920s era two flat alone on a block that is otherwise filled with 1960s-era brick ranch homes. Aerial photos of North Buffalo and Tonawanda from the 1920s are quite haunting ... look at all those ghost streets!.

Road maps of Texas cities are fascinating, because you'll spot the routes of frontage roads without the accompanying freeway; a hint of a future highway project.
 

cnyOntario

Member
Messages
64
Points
4
I love maps too. Have collected them since I was a little kid. I do suburbs projections for Syracuse all the time. One of my secret passions is for Syracuse's urbanized area footprint to get much bigger so that we start to feel like a real metropolitan city. I hate rural Upstate NY, therefore the more civilization that gets built, the happier I am. :-D

I am in direct conflict with all the leadership in Syracuse on this issue. It stinks when everyone else is fighting what you want. LOL It also stinks that Onondaga County builds very few number of homes each year compared to other urbanized areas our size. We SHOULD be building 4,000 new homes a year, instead we only build about 1,100 new homes.
 

Rem

Cyburbian
Messages
1,523
Points
23
I love poring over maps too. We don't have the cities the US does so I have tended towards natural area maps. We have a brilliant 1:250,000 series covering the state that have hours of reading pleasure on them. I often just look over maps of remote places trying to picture the landscape based on the map information - sometimes superimposing myself into an idyllic camping spot.

One thing I enjoy about maps not mentioned above is appreciating the techniques map makers use to relate such a massive amount of information so economically. The best techniques are intuitive where you don't need to look at the key to understand what a graphic means. You can see techniques from very old maps, especially nautical charts, that are stunningly simple and clever (to me at least) today. One of the of the reasons we can enjoy foreign maps so readily is because of the universality of the techniques.
 

Dan

Dear Leader
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
18,707
Points
69
Cirrus said:
Curvilinear romantic grids that are "suburban" but don't have cul-de-sacs are post World War II, but no later than the 1970s. (See Del Mar in Aurora or South Boulder)
Not always. Many date to the 1890s, but in earlier times they were in upscale, then-suburban communities, like Buffalo's Parkside neighborhood, and Riverside outside of Chicago. This aerial shows some curvy-wurvy ghost streets in Buffalo in the 1920s.

Del Mar, South Boulder, Fort Collins just south of Old Town, and expecially Sharpstown in Houston are great examples of 1950s-style grids.
 

Cirrus

Cyburbian
Messages
303
Points
11
^
Yeah, but Buffalo doesn't count. I was referring exclusively to Colorado.
 
Messages
44
Points
2
I find myself reading maps all of the time even outside of work. My friends will make fun of me, however I am the one they call when they are stuck in a pinch and are lost. We planners love maps, it is in our blood. Give me a good street map of a city over a magazine anyday.
 

Super Amputee Cat

Cyburbian
Messages
2,251
Points
30
upstateplanner said:
Give me a good street map of a city over a magazine anyday.
Unfortunately, for every person like you there are twenty people that will read People or US or some other lowbrow fare. Or worse, buy it.

What I do to mitigate this is whenever I'm in the checkout line, I completely cover up all the issues of such tawdry filth as Cosmo, People, Soap Opera Digest, yada yada, with maps. Maybe it will only last a few hours before some clerk notices it and puts it back, but I'd like to think that my efforts have prevented the purchase of at least a couple of issues of that swill because the maps deflected an impulse buy. Out of sight out of mind.

Of course, if some one is actively seeking the latest issue of Teen People or Glamour that then they will find it, but maybe, just maybe the maps prevented someone from saying. "Wow, look Darla, J-Ho on the cover of People! I think I'll buy it!" while they are sucking down an opened bag of Doritos in the checkout line.
 
Last edited:
Messages
31
Points
2
Maps better than se...

Cardinal said:
Oh yeah, that's the stuff... better than se... um, no, forget that. Still, I love those maps.
;-)

A comment made by a friend of mine while we were working on a project study was that maps would be a "turn on" for him. The newer the better! While I personally do not feel that strong of an attraction to them, they still get me excited.

I had planned to go in cartography instead of planning, however the only place that offered the program was a bit far, and I didn't like the thought of having to travel all that distance every day for classes. Although with all this GIS the two are starting to blend into one another.

I still collect and pore over maps from whenever I travel, and have friends bring me back whenever they can. I especially like collecting and going over transit maps. They kinda give you an idea as to how the city flows. (Why does that route go that particular way?) Plus if you look at a series of them over time, you can see how the city and subsequent services (transit) have grown.
 
Top