Urban Ramblings

I was chatting on-line last night with a friend in Chicago and he sent me his address. I looked it up on an online map (I find the Rand McNally website the best for maps) and it reminded me how simple his city is (in terms of layout). It got me to thinking about the idiosyncracies of Boston*:

First off, as you can see from this map…there is no rhyme or reason to our street pattern. Compare it to the Chicago map below.

Our streets change names for no reason. Washington Street used to be Orange Street (before the first U.S. President existed). And once it was changed to Washington, any street intersecting it had to change names when it crosses over. So Summer Street turns into Winter Street after passing through. Another example: without taking any corners, Temple Street becomes Staniford Street, which becomes Causeway Street, which becomes Commercial Street which eventually becomes Atlantic Avenue. Even more confusing, Tremont Street, which through most of the city is relatively parallel to Boylston Street, actually intersects with it at one point. This takes place right around the time where to continue on Tremont, you have to turn right at an intersection, then turn left at the next set of lights.

We name our buildings “Old” and “New”…without much logic. Originally, there was South Church. When a newer church was built in a new location, we got two separate churches; the “Old South Church” and the “New South Church”. Centuries later when another church was built, we are left with a building we now call the “New Old South Church”. And how ironic is it that the building we use as our “new” state house was, in fact, built in 1798 (it’s gold leaf dome covering a copper roof done by Paul Revere).

And why is our West End north and east of the South End? And our North End east of the West End? And how ironic is it that we we call a neighborhood Back Bay…when that neighborhood actually eliminated the actual Back Bay by covering it up with landfill and then developing it? No such bay has existed for over 150 years.

And few (if not none) of our squares are in fact, square. Arriving in Kenmore Square gives you the option of taking six different roads. Copley Square? 5 roads plus a ramp to the Mass Turnpike. And don’t get me started on all of the rotaries we still have. Or the fact that Leverett Circle is not an actual circle (though there are lots of curves).

I don’t know why I’m rambling. My conversation last night just got me to thinking. Bt the more I think about it, if given a choice, I’d pick a city like Boston. I like narrow curving roads that provide surprises at every corner. I like “streets” that are so narrow they can’t accomodate automobiles. It all just feels so much more organic to me…more intimate.


*I’m likely to get slack from a few people for this posting because I have a history of being very territorial and proud of Boston – despite of (or because of) it’s little quirks.


  1. Comment by Will on March 1, 2005 11:32 am

    Go, Karl. Boston has a history of appreciating and fostering genuine eccentricity. Your post echos and expands on a great copmmentary many years ago on WBZ TV by political analyst Dick Flavin. He did a map of the city showing how West Roxbury is really south of Roxbury, etc. Boston has LOTS of quirks which is what makes it so wonderful–somehow everything is possible here!

  2. Comment by David on March 1, 2005 11:59 am

    Only you could come up with such an observation. Just coming back from Chichago, it is very grid like. But of course they do have Oprah….
    But it seems very spread out.

  3. Comment by Underling on March 1, 2005 1:39 pm

    We have a street here in OKC that starts out as Eastern Avenue, turns into Martin Luther King, goes back to Eastern Avenue and finally becomes Boulevard. It’s straight north-south road without any real curves.

    Other than that, OKC is built on a north-south east-west grid much like Chicago. Makes it very easy to get around.

    Unfortunately, it’s Oklahoma City…so there’s really not a lot worth getting around to.

    I think I’d take Boston’s craziness for a little more class and culture.

  4. Comment by e on March 1, 2005 11:04 pm

    It’s a love/hate thing. I bitch about the lack of logic in the planning of Boston, and the continued mismanagement– like a four year project in Cambridge to move one rotary 100 feet and encouraging worse traffic than ever… but, well, it is better than a the heartless grids of the Midwest.

  5. Comment by Daryl on March 3, 2005 10:38 am

    Hey, I was thinking the same thing about one thing I like about cities like Boston and London – there’s something nice about how a city with winding streets can surprise you. It’s very organic, the way the streets seemed to have evolved.

  6. Comment by Sofia on August 25, 2005 3:16 am

    Your site is realy very interesting. http://www.bignews.com

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