Urban planning demands agile thinking; after all, cities are a beautifully (or sometimes messily) choreographed dance between policy and design. The excitement that comes from visiting a new one can be credited in part to the fact that cities tend to have as many similarities as they do differences. A template exists, but designers are free to make them as elastic as they please, depending on the needs of the citizens.
Erin Davis, a Portland, Oregon-based artist and cartographer, has been visualizing urban centers based on street name data for months. Her most recent series, which maps cities based on their suffixes—like Ave. versus Drive—is a fascinating new way to understand how cities evolve over time. As Davis writes on her blog:
Driving around your city, you’re probably somewhat aware of Avenues and Boulevards and Streets and Roads and so on. Here in Portland, at least, I know that Avenues run north-south and Streets run east-west. However, it’s hard to get an overall view of how all these road designations knit together. By coloring them, we can suddenly see a new, stunning view of what we normally take for granted.
Thanks to her key, which organizes roads into colors, her vibrant maps provide a bird’s-eye view of various city grids, from Paris to Houston to Auckland, Australia. It’s possible to see the idiosyncrasies and histories of cities in her maps: San Fransisco is clearly striated between its downtown of streets and its eastern neighborhoods of boulevards, for instance, while Chicago is dominated by unnamed alleys. Click through to explore Davis’s maps, dubbed “The Beautiful Hidden Logic of Cities.“