Geosthetics Blog

Welcome to the Geosthetics Blog. We are excited to be discussing our passion: the beauty of the built and natural environment. Our blog will be an ongoing discussion covering the built form of our towns and cities; the land patterns we have created; the dynamics of our transportation systems; the historic, social, cultural and economic forces that have brought about our built form; and the beautiful large-scale geographic forms found in nature. Please note that, except as otherwise referenced, all blog entries reflect the opinions, knowledge, and experience of Geosthetics' founder, Cayl Hollis. The blog is NOT a detailed research thesis, and is not heavily referenced to other sources. We are keeping things simple and straightforward, with writings based primarily upon Cayl's personal experience, education, observations, insight, and musings, including a large amount of general and specific information from books, the internet, and related television shows that has stuck in his mind but that he has no memory as to the specifics of where it came from.

We welcome your input. If you have an interesting story to tell regarding a particular place or subject, have specific knowledge to add, or wish to clear up something in the blog, please drop us a line. Also, if you think there is something in the blog that should be referenced or corrected, please forward the specifics so that we can add it to the blog or change the blog as needed.  If we decide to use information or knowledge you have provided, we will reference you in the blog accordingly, always with thanks and appreciation.

We want this blog and associated discussions to be fun, informative, and positive in spirit. We do welcome differing opinions, as different ideas can spring forth new thoughts and new ways of thinking about things. However, we will purposefully remove any comments that we deem disrespectful or mean-spirited.

Please enjoy, and keep checking back with us every so often for new blog topics.


NOTE:  All images in this blog post, unless noted otherwise, are taken from US Geological Survey 7.5' Quadrangles, latest available editions available at the time of posting, and color adjusted by me.  All additions I have made to the images are noted with each applicable image.  All aerial images are oriented with cardinal north at the top of the image.


Many American towns contain public spaces that were integrated into their initial layouts.  Others created public spaces within older areas as part of the City Beautiful, Urban Renewal, or New Urbanism movements.  Some cities created public spaces adjacent to the initial town layout, which then became a primary focal point as the town grew.  There is a surprising variety of such spaces, which are categorized below.

Probably the earliest public space of the earliest British and Dutch settlements, the common (or green) was set aside as a communal open space in the center of or adjacent to a settlement, and also often used as pasturage for the horses and livestock owned by residents of the community.  A common/green was typically not part of a pre-planned pattern of streets and blocks, but was rather a tract of land adjacent to a settlement and around which the settlement grew, or was a central space around which the settlement was built piecemeal.  It can be either small or large compared with surrounding blocks, and can take on any form, from irregular to defined, and typically having the characteristics of a park.  This type of public space is usually found in the northeastern states.

Amherst, New Hampshire, grew around its elliptical village green.

Spanish Plaza
The Spanish typically developed their American colonial settlements focused upon a rectangular open area called a Plaza, with the length typically oriented generally east-west.  This space, similar to the Common, was developed for the purpose of community gatherings and events, as well as pasturage for horses and livestock.  However, unlike many Commons, the Spanish Plaza is typically fully enclosed along each side with commercial buildings facing the Plaza, forming an outdoor room.  The Plaza tends to be a self-contained public space, often with a central fountain and/or gazebo, with streets emanating from the Plaza in a loosely organized web of streets, whereas the common American Town Square tends to be a specific block within a pre-planned grid.

Many subsequent Texas and neighboring-state communities established by American or European settlers also have Spanish-type plazas around which their initial town form developed, owing to the Spanish influence in that region.  These plazas often take on the characteristics of an Asymmetrical Town Square.

Historic Taos, New Mexico, was built around its Spanish plaza.

Ladonia, Texas, was laid out around a central plaza.

Town Square
Arguably the most American of public spaces, the town square is a public space of any shape located at the center of a town, and is typically the focus of the town's early commercial development.  The square is typically covered with grass and trees, with formal walkways and often a central focus such as a fountain, monument, or gazebo.  The town square can also contain a significant public building, such as a court house, city/town/village hall, or state house.  The town square can take on a number of characteristics:
  • Block Town Square:  This is a central block of the initial grid form of a town, and can be square or rectangular in shape with the streets surrounding the square continuing beyond the square.  The lots on each side of the square front upon the square.

A park-like town square fills the central block of the original townsite in St. John, Kansas.  The city's commercial buildings face upon each side of the square.
  • Asymmetrical Town Square:  This is a Town Square around which are blocks of varying sizes, with some streets ending at the square while others continue beyond the square.  This is typically found within a loose grid or non-uniform grid pattern.  The lots on each side of the square front upon the square.

The town square in Darlington, South Carolina, is surrounded by variously sized blocks within a non-uniform street pattern.
  • Axial Town Square:  This is a Town Square centered upon a street. 

The courthouse square in Gilmer, Texas, is centered upon Henderson Street to the south and Titus Street to the north.
  • Bi-Axial Town Square:  This is a Town Square centered upon two streets that run at generally right angles to each other. 

The town square of Mt. Vernon, Ohio, is centered upon both Main Street, running north-south, and High Street, which runs east-west.
  • Stepped Town Square:  This is a public space consisting of a widened portion of a primary street or a street intersection.  If a widened primary street, the length may be one or a few blocks, often with a landscaped median or park area.  If an intersection, the shape is typically square or rectangular, with the corners projecting into the adjacent blocks but without separate streets at the perimeter.  A monument or monuments might be located in the center portion of these public spaces, often within the automobile traffic flow. 

Market Street in Sunbury, Pennsylvania, widens to form the town's  beautiful linear town square.

The rectangular town square in Hanover, Pennsylvania, highlighted in orange by me, is essentially a widened intersection of the town's historic primary streets.  The four quadrants of the widened intersection contain landscaped parking, pedestrian seating areas, and monuments.
  • Circular Town Square:  A public space in the shape of a circle, oval, or ellipse, typically at the intersection of crossing streets. 

Patterson, California, has a central business district that focuses on a circular town square.  Adjacent triangular park blocks widen the overall public space in this interesting central area.

The small community of Jourdanton, Texas, is focused upon a circular courthouse square.
  • Multi-block Town Square:  A rectangular or square public space that spans more than one block within a grid of streets, typically two blocks centered in a grid, but sometimes four blocks, and usually with the surrounding lots facing onto the group. 

The central town square of Erie, Pennsylvania, encompasses two blocks that span either side of State Street, and that are centered upon 6th Street.

The famous Public Square in Cleveland, Ohio, highlighted in orange by me, consists of four beautifully landscaped blocks centered upon two primary streets.  The city's traditional main street, Euclid Avenue, runs eastward from the southeast corner of the square.

Municipal Block
A Municipal Block is a landscaped block on which a significant public building is located.  Though it is similar to a Town Square that has a municipal building, the block is usually not the central block of a grid and usually does not have lots facing the block on all sides.

The county courthouse in Goshen, Indiana, sits upon a full block along Main Street at the north end of the commercial district.  Note that the buildings to the north and south of this municipal block generally do not face the block as is the case in traditional town squares.

Urban Plaza
An urban plaza is a variation on the town square.  The plaza is typically a block or portion of a block, large or small, that contains a significant amount of paving for heavy pedestrian use, with landscaping, fountains, sculpture and seating areas to create additional interest.

The large expanse of City Hall Plaza in downtown Boston, Massachusetts, was part of a massive mid-century urban renewal project that bulldozed and consolidated numerous blocks within the historic city core.  The plaza is paved in the city's famed red brick and is the setting for the City Hall building in the southeast portion of the plaza, and the John F. Kennedy Federal Building along the northern edge of the plaza.

Sequential Blocks
The Sequential Blocks public space consists of a series of typically rectilinear public spaces in a line across several blocks. These blocks often contain public buildings within them, but are typically not the focus of commercial development.

The town of Red Wing, Minnesota, has a sequence of public spaces, highlighted in orange by me, across four blocks where the city's two initial street grids meet.  These spaces include two small parks along with public and institutional facilities on landscaped grounds.  Downtown is located immediately to the northeast of these blocks, with tree-lined residential streets to the west, south, and east of these sequential blocks.

Downtown Elyria, Ohio, is centered upon a sequence of two public blocks that run south from the city's traditional east-west main street.  The north block is a landscaped town square, and the south block is a landscaped courthouse square.

Public Mall
The public mall consists of a sequence of open public spaces across several blocks, or a contiguous open public space several blocks in length, with public buildings surrounding and facing the public space(s).  Such spaces are often called civic centers.

The formal Public Mall in downtown Cleveland, Ohio, runs northwest from the heart of the city center towards the city's lakefront and stadium.  The mall was the result of an ambitious plan to remake the central city during the City Beautiful Movement at the beginning of the 20th Century.  The mall is lined with formal civic buildings and prominent commercial buildings.  The northern two blocks of the mall are currently being re-built.

Formal Park
A formal park is a block-size or larger park space within a town or city, with a typically symmetrical pattern of pathways defining and focusing on lawns, gardens, fountains or monuments, creating a passive park experience.

A beautiful formal park in central Honesdale, Pennsylvania, lies east of the city's traditional downtown main street.

Dynamic Urban Park
The dynamic urban park is a contemporary public park that is designed with a large variety of public attractions, including plazas, lawns, fountains, sculpture, ice rinks, performance space, food venues, and other components that create an active public space that can become a significant identity for the city within which it is located.

Millennium Park is a dynamic urban park built on top of parking garages and a commuter rail line in downtown Chicago, Illinois.  It contains beautiful landscaping, dynamic sculpture, an interactive water feature, two large performance venues, a popular restaurant, a winter-time skating rink, and ever-changing art displays and public events.  It has become a major symbol of the city and one of the most popular places for residents and tourists to visit.
(Image from City of Chicago Interactive Zoning Map)

Summertime crowds flock to Millennium Park in Chicago, Illinois.  Two of the park's renowned attractions include the reflective Cloud Gate sculpture at the left, and the dynamic Pritzker Pavillion performance venue to the right.
(Image from

Public Park
The public park is an area owned by a municipality or other government entity that consists of sizable areas of grass, trees and landscaping, with the purpose to provide open space and places for public leisure, passive and physical activities, and playgrounds for children.  If large enough, parks may also contain athletic facilities such as tennis and volleyball courts, baseball and soccer fields, public swimming pools, and sizable public buildings for gatherings, art classes, physical fitness activities, and venues for indoor sports such as basketball and volleyball for public athletic leagues.  Parks may also contain ponds, lakes, fountains, sculpture, zoos, and amusements such as carousels, Ferris wheels and other similar rides.  Parks are typically located within residential areas, and are sometimes located along waterfronts, streams and rivers.

Loose Park in Kansas City, Missouri, is surrounded by tree-covered residential neighborhoods.

A campus is a sizable parcel of land, typically landscaped and without public through-roads or with limited public through roads, which contains multiple buildings under single ownership and management, similar usage, or of common identity.  Historically associated with colleges and universities, campuses are also used for consolidated government centers, civic centers, public schools, hospitals, medical centers, research centers, corporate headquarters, commercial office complexes, as well as public and private housing complexes.  Because of their large land areas, campuses are typically built on the edge of or away from built-up areas of towns and cities, and are commonly found in suburban areas.  However, many older communities grew around early college campuses, and many newer campuses can be found in urban renewal areas and on super-blocks within cities.  Campuses can be public (owned by a government entity and available to the public), but are often private with use limited to those employed at, living in, or visiting the facilities housed within the campus.

The campus of Rice University in Houston, Texas, has a formal layout on elegantly landscaped grounds.

Some of the Silicon Valley office campuses in Mountain View, California

Categories: uncategorized


The following list encompasses specialty terms, some obvious but others possibly not so much, relating to our built environment and are given a general definition as intended to be used within the Geosthetics Blog.  Words within the definition that are CAPITALIZED AND UNDERLINED are terms defined elsewhere in the Glossary.

NATURAL AREA:  A sizable area of land without AGRICULTURAL or URBAN DEVELOPMENT, and that remains mostly untouched by day-to-day human activities.

  A NATURAL AREA within or adjacent to an URBAN AREA that has been purchased by a PUBLIC entity for perpetuity and the benefit of the PUBLIC, has been set aside for the preservation of OPEN SPACE, and that is limited in its PUBLIC access or use in order to maintain its natural STATE.

  A RESIDENTIAL or other area within a TOWN, CITY or COUNTY that has one or more of the following characteristics:
  • A specific SOCIAL IDENTITY that is commonly held amongst residents within a defined area, and that is commonly known by the overall residents of the TOWN, CITY, or COUNTY in which it is located
  • A specific aesthetic and/or use identity within a defined area that is commonly known by residents of a TOWN, CITY, or COUNTY
  • A commonly-used name for a defined area within a TOWN, CITY, or COUNTY.
  • An area within an identifiable boundary within a TOWN, CITY, or COUNTY
  • A specific geographic location and its surrounding area within a TOWN, CITY, or COUNTY

An area within a NEIGHBORHOOD or adjacent to multiple NEIGHBORHOODS that has a modest or sizable number of stores and businesses that primarily serve the residents of the NEIGHBORHOOD or adjacent NEIGHBORHOODS.

  A publicly-owned or ASSOCIATION-controlled landscaped property set aside for the purpose of PASSIVE RECREATION and/or ACTIVE RECREATION.

  An URBAN DESIGN/URBAN PLANNING philosophy and design practice of the late 20th and early 21st Centuries that utilizes PRE-WAR TOWN and CITY form, allowing for PEDESTRIAN-FRIENDLY NEIGHBORHOODS and COMMERCIAL DISTRICTS, MIXED-USE DEVELOPMENT, a variety of housing types, and TRANSIT-ORIENTED DEVELOPMENT to decrease automobile dependence and to reduce auto traffic congestion.


A term used for one or more of the following:
  • A building or a series of rooms within a building devoted to the administrative tasks of a business
  • A building housing businesses that are not involved in retail, warehousing and distribution, or manufacturing uses
  • A business whose workers perform their work primarily at desks
OFFICE (LAND USE):  A land use category devoted primarily to OFFICE use.

An area of a TOWN, CITY, or COUNTY that is dominated by OFFICE buildings and GENERAL BUSINESS uses.

  A sizable property that has been ZONED and subdivided for OFFICE buildings and that typically has planning, architectural, and management controls beyond what is typically required by municipal authorities.

  A TRACT of land or area dedicated to or purchased by a PUBLIC agency or ASSOCIATION for perpetuity and the benefit of the PUBLIC or ASSOCIATION residents, in which DEVELOPMENT is not allowed other than for recreational purposes.


  A TRACT of land.

A TRACT of land dedicated to or purchased by a PUBLIC agency or ASSOCIATION for perpetuity and the benefit of the PUBLIC or ASSOCIATION residents and that is landscaped and designed for the purposes of PASSIVE RECREATION and/or ACTIVE RECREATION.

A landscaped ROADWAY typically running through parkland or a NATURE PRESERVE, or with significantly wide RIGHT-OF-WAY as to allow for a naturalistic landscape to either side of the ROADWAY, intended as an aesthetically pleasing travel route.

  The strip or strips of land within a RIGHT-OF-WAY that lie between the edge of a ROADWAY and the SIDEWALK that runs parallel to the ROADWAY, or between the ROADWAY and the edge of the RIGHT-OF-WAY.This strip of land is often landscaped with grass and other decorative shrubs and plants, and often has trees that line the ROADWAY.

  Non-work activities that involve minimal physical effort or structured rules, such as sitting, strolling, picnicking, fishing, or watching performances or sport activities.

  Relating to walking by an individual or individuals.  Also, a method of transportation that utilizes walking.  


  A landscaped walkway, typically on a CAMPUS or connecting two or more STREETS within a COMMERCIAL area.  Also, a COMMERCIAL STREET or group of adjacent COMMERCIAL STREETS that have been converted to a PEDESTRIAN STREET.

A group of buildings within a TRACT of land or across multiple BLOCKS that is designed to be PEDESTRIAN FRIENDLY.


A STREET in which VEHICLE traffic is not allowed or is restricted and whose RIGHT-OF-WAY is landscaped to encourage walking.

The SUBDIVISION of land and construction of buildings over time within a given area that occurs without prior overall planning.  Also, development within an area or region in which TRACTS of land and their uses are developed by individual owners with little regard to adjacent DEVELOPMENTS and uses.

  A large SUBDIVISION, VILLAGE, or TOWN in which, prior to its DEVELOPMENT, sizable TRACTS of land were consolidated under single ownership, and a comprehensive plan was established indicating all proposed LAND USES, all STREETS, the SUBDIVISION of LOTS, OPEN SPACES to be preserved, and the location of RECREATION and PUBLIC FACILITIES, as well as documenting any architectural and other aesthetic controls for the COMMUNITY.

A legal document consisting of a scaled drawing showing the SUBDIVISION of a TRACT or PARCEL of land, indicating boundary lines, STREETS, ALLEYS, EASEMENTS, and LOTS, with associated lengths and directional bearings of same, with each STREET identified by name, each LOT and/or BLOCK identified by a sequential number or letter, and including a legal description for the entire TRACT as well as a statement of dedication for all PUBLIC or ASSOCIATION RIGHTS-OR-WAY and EASEMENTS.

  The drawing of a PLAT.  Also, the formal establishment of a PLAT through its submittal to and approval by a governing authority.

  An outdoor OPEN SPACE which, in CONTEMPORARY America, is typically a mostly paved space in front of or between buildings, with integrated landscaping, and can be privately or publicly owned.  In Early-American Spanish SETTLEMENTS, a PLAZA is the pre-planned central COMMON around which a COMMUNITY is built.

  The era following the end of World War II.

The predominant form of SUBURBAN and URBAN RENEWAL DEVELOPMENT typical of the 20th Century after the end of World War II and into the early 21st Century, which primarily consists of AUTO-ORIENTED DEVELOPMENT in SUBURBAN areas, and SUPER BLOCK DEVELOPMENT in URBAN RENEWAL areas.

  The era prior to the end of World War II.

  The predominant form of DEVELOPMENT within VILLAGES, TOWNS and CITIES prior to the end of World War II, which primarily consisted of PEDESTRIAN-ORIENTED DEVELOPMENT.

  The geographic area that is directly affected by the ECONOMIC INFLUENCE and SOCIAL INFLUENCE of a VILLAGE, TOWN, TOWN GROUP, CITY, COUNTY, or METROPOLITAN AREA.  The limits can be defined as that within which a significant percentage of residents of the outlying areas of the orbit travel daily or weekly to the VILLAGE, TOWN, TOWN GROUP, CITY, COUNTY, or METROPOLITAN AREA for employment, entertainment, SERVICES, or shopping.

  A ROADWAY that is a significant THROUGH ROUTE within a VILLAGE, TOWN, CITY, or the developed portion of a COUNTY, and often also acts as a COMMERCIAL STREET or COMMERCIAL CORRIDOR (aka "ARTERIAL STREET").

  The citizens of a VILLAGE, TOWN, CITY, COUNTY, STATE, or nation.  Also, relating to or serving all citizens of a VILLAGE, TOWN, CITY, COUNTY, STATE, or nation, including all agencies, entities, and institutions of government and the associated buildings, facilities, and lands.

  Buildings, lands, and/or structures that are owned, used by, or operated for the benefit of the PUBLIC, but especially those common facilities that the PUBLIC can access for their own use and activities.

  A MALL owned by and accessible to the PUBLIC, or a privately owned MALL that has no or little restriction to PUBLIC access and use.

  A PLAZA owned by and accessible to the PUBLIC, or a privately owned PLAZA that has no or little restriction to PUBLIC access and use.

  An open area that is accessible to and utilized by the PUBLIC, typically owned by a GOVERNMENT entity, but also sometimes privately owned but accessible to the PUBLIC with no or little restriction to PUBLIC access and use, such as a PLAZA in front of an OFFICE building.

  An outdoor PUBLIC SPACE, typically rectangular or SQUARE in shape, usually encompassing one BLOCK but can also cover multiple adjacent BLOCKS, and that is most often located in a central location within the historic COMMERCIAL DISTRICT of a VILLAGE, TOWN, or CITY (aka "SQUARE" or "TOWN SQUARE").  A public square can also be used as the location for a prominent public building, such as a courthouse, city hall, or library.

  A RIGHT-OF-WAY that is owned by and accessible to the PUBLIC, or an EASEMENT that allows for public access.

An AVENUE or STREET that runs centered upon a line emanating from an origin point of an arc or circle or the center of a rectangular PUBLIC SPACE, and typically running at a generally right angle to the tangent of crossing curved STREETS and/or as a DIAGONAL AVENUE/STREET.

  A SUBURBAN VILLAGE or TOWN that developed along a COMMUTER RAIL line.

  A method of transportation by which specialized vehicles travel on rails within a dedicated RIGHT-OF-WAY.

  A rail-based TRANSIT system within a CITY and/or URBAN area, accessed at numerous stations spaced roughly one-half mile to several miles apart, and can consist of an ELEVATED RAIL system, SUBWAY system, LIGHT RAIL system, or some combination of these systems.

  A category of LAND USE classification devoted primarily to private or PUBLIC recreation, including PARKS, sports fields, FOREST PRESERVES, NATURE RESERVES, lakes, and beaches

RECREATION (ACTIVITY):  Individual or group activities involving PASSIVE RECREATION or ACTIVE RECREATION experiences for the purpose of relaxation or enjoyment.

Land and/or waterways that are set aside for the purpose of PUBLIC RECREATION, including PARKS, sports fields, FOREST PRESERVES, NATURE PRESERVES, lakes, rivers, and beaches.

  An area of any size that has common geographical features and/or climate that can be defined by geographic features or climate, and/or that has economic, political, or cultural similarities or connections across multiple VILLAGES, TOWNS, CITIES, COUNTIES, METROPOLITAN AREAS, and/or STATES.

  Pertaining to the area within the boundaries of or pertaining to the characteristics of a REGION

The lands by which common geographic features, ECONOMIC INFLUENCES, and/or SOCIAL IDENTITY exist.

A large PUBLIC RECREATION AREA that is designated for and utilized by citizens of a REGION.

  The initial SURVEY and documentation of and/or SUBDIVISION of significantly large PARCELS of land within a REGION or STATE, for the purposes of land sales and SETTLEMENT.

  A group of buildings, typically on a CAMPUS, or a sizable SUBDIVISION dedicated to housing collegiate, corporate, INSTITUTIONAL, or PUBLIC research groups.

  A category of LAND USE classification devoted primarily to single-family houses, townhouses, and/or apartments.

  An area of a VILLAGE, TOWN, CITY, or COUNTY dominated by RESIDENTIAL LAND USE.

  A SUBDIVISION, VILLAGE, or TOWN whose primary economic activity is based upon vacation travel, seasonal use, amusement, and/or recreational activities.

  The sale of products to customers, whose price includes all associated material, manufacturing, distribution, and overhead costs, plus profit.

  A category of LAND USE classification devoted primarily to businesses that sell merchandise and/or personal SERVICES to the PUBLIC.

  A SUBDIVISION, VILLAGE, or TOWN that is developed for or whose economy and population are dominated by individuals who are retired.

  Property that is owned by the PUBLIC or by a private entity and that is designated for access by or the transportation of people, the transportation of goods, the installation of and access to UTILITIES, and/or for the access of LOTS or TRACTS of land.  Typically, a RIGHT-OF-WAY is a relatively narrow strip of land that runs for a significant distance, containing a ROADWAY, RAILROAD, and/or UTILITIY line that runs either above-ground or below-ground.

  A paved or un-paved transportation path within a RIGHT-OF-WAY or EASEMENT of sufficient width to allow for the use of vehicles.

  A category of LAND USE classification devoted primarily to AGRICULTURAL use and/or NATURAL AREAS.  Also, the characteristics of AGRICULTURAL and NATURAL AREAS.

  The people who live in AGRICULTURAL and NATURAL AREAS, including those who live in VILLAGES or small TOWNS within such areas.  Also, the social characteristics of people who live in rural areas.

A VILLAGE or small TOWN that is located within an AGRICULTURAL and/or NATURAL AREA, which is typically an AGRICULTURAL COMMUNITY, and that generally does not act as a primary ECONOMIC INFLUENCE within a REGION.  Some rural communities can also have economies that are based upon localized industry, mining, or tourism.

  A ROADWAY, paved or unpaved, that runs within a RURAL area.

  A subdivision located within a predominantly agricultural or natural area, typically within the PRIMARY ECONOMIC ORBIT of a TOWN, CITY, or METROPOLITAN AREA.

  A VILLAGE or TOWN whose economy and population fluctuates with the seasons related to travel to and RECREATION within its REGION.

  The geographic area that lies beyond the PRIMARY ECONOMIC ORBIT of a TOWN, CITY, or METROPOLITAN AREA, yet retains economic and social connection with the primary TOWN, CITY, or METROPOLITAN AREA.  The limits can be defined as that within which a significant percentage of residents travel weekly, monthly, several times a year, or annually to the TOWN, CITY or METROPOLITAN AREA for entertainment, SERVICES, or shopping.  A small percentage of residents might travel to the TOWN, CITY or METROPOLITAN AREA for employment.

  The primary subdivision of land within a REGIONAL SURVEY and/or BLOCK survey, as well as within a TOWNSHIP of the TOWNSHIP AND RANGE SURVEY.  Sections are most commonly PLATTED as a square of land one mile to each side and 640 acres in size, though rectangular and irregular boundaries and other acreage sizes are also used in some areas and for certain geographic conditions.

  The boundary line of a SECTION of land.

  A RIGHT-OF-WAY with ROADWAY that is centered upon or runs along a SECTION LINE.

  The separation of LAND USE categories by type, such that only a particular category can be built and used/operated within a given area of a VILLAGE, TOWN, CITY, or COUNTY.

  The innate common emotional and visual connection of a NATURAL AREA or AGRICULTURAL area, or a VILLAGE, TOWN, CITY, COUNTY or their NEIGHBORHOODS or PUBLIC SPACES, based upon the aesthetic, spatial and emotional characteristics of the place, and their popularity.

A non-RETAIL business establishment that provides for a fee necessary, selective, and/or beneficial assistance to or maintenance of other businesses, residences, or individuals.

  A transportation route, typically an ALLEY, which acts primarily as a means of accessing businesses or residences for the purposes of the delivery or shipping of goods, or for trash removal, and is typically located at the rear or side of a LOT.

The assistance or maintenance provided by a business or institution to other businesses, residences, or individuals.

  The benefits provided to citizens by governments and their employees.

  The products delivered by UTILITIES.

SETTLEMENT:  The initial HABITATION of a VILLAGE or REGION by a group of people.  Also, the BUILT ENVIRONMENT of a village, or the village itself.

A building or group of buildings under single ownership and management that is subdivided into multiple tenant spaces for lease by retailers, and that typically contains customer parking on its site or adjacent to its site.

  The typically paved PEDESTRIAN path within a RIGHT-OF-WAY that runs parallel to a ROADWAY.

A building on a LOT built adjacent to a PUBLIC SIDEWALK and close to or adjacent to another building, or multiple buildings on a group of LOTS or across multiple BLOCKS and that are built close together or adjacent to each other with their fronts built along a PUBLIC SIDEWALK or close to a PUBLIC SIDEWALK, such that PEDESTRIANS can easily access multiple buildings.

  A LOT within a RESIDENTIAL SUBDIVISION in which a single home is allowed to be built for the purpose of housing an individual family or HOUSEHOLD.

  The cultural and/or emotional connections commonly held among a group of people.

  The capacity of a VILLAGE, TOWN, TOWN GROUP, CITY, COUNTY, METROPOLITAN AREA or METROPOLITAN GROUP to imbue a sense of interconnectedness and identity amongst its residents and visitors within its local, STATE, or geographic REGION, and potentially within its nation or other nations.

  The spread of non-AGRICULTURAL DEVELOPMENT across an extensive area within a COUNTY, METROPOLITAN AREA or REGION, especially that characterized by LEAP-FROG DEVELOPMENT and LOW DENSITY DEVELOPMENT.

  An outdoor PUBLIC SPACE, typically rectangular or square in shape, typically encompassing one BLOCK but can also cover multiple adjacent BLOCKS, and that is most often located in a central location within the historic COMMERCIAL DISTRICT of a VILLAGE, TOWN, or CITY (aka "PUBLIC SQUARE" or "TOWN SQUARE").

  The primary land and government unit of the United States of America, whose government operates under a publicly-ratified constitution.  Within each state are state-defined sub-units, such as COUNTIES, TOWNSHIPS, CITIES, TOWNS, and VILLAGES, with each state defining the specific units and the government services to be provided (if any) by each unit.

An ACCESS WAY bounded by a RIGHT-OF-WAY and typically containing a ROADWAY, often having SIDEWALKS paralleling on each side of the ROADWAY, and which provides a transportation route within a NEIGHBORHOOD or through a VILLAGE, TOWN, CITY, COUNTY, or METROPOLITAN AREA, and that is most often used as the primary access to a group of LOTS within a NEIGHBORHOOD.

The stretch of a STREET between two intersecting STREETS, or, if a CUL-DE-SAC or DEAD-END STREET, the stretch of STREET from the single intersecting STREET to the closed end of the STREET.  

A form of TRANSIT utilizing rail-based self-propelled vehicles, whose tracks typically run at grade within a ROADWAY or dedicated RIGHT-OF-WAY.

  Pre-World War II era PEDESTRIAN-FRIENDLY COMMERCIAL areas that developed along the routes of STREET CAR lines.  Also, CONTEMPORARY PEDESTRIAN-oriented COMMERCIAL areas that are developed along LIGHT RAIL or STREET CAR lines.

  A pre-World War II era PEDESTRIAN-FRIENDLY SUBDIVISION or SUBURB that developed along a STREET CAR line.

  A system of STREETS within a given area that run in two directions, where the STREETS running in the same direction are parallel, and forming rectangular, square, or parallelogram BLOCKS.

  The overall pattern/system of STREETS within a NEIGHBORHOOD, VILLAGE, TOWN, CITY, COUNTY, or METROPOLITAN AREA, regardless of pattern or orientation.

  A pattern of STREETS within a NEIGHBORHOOD and groups of NEIGHBORHOODS that allows for easy movement of vehicles and/or pedestrians in multiple directions.  A web that is beneficial to the URBAN environment is one in which STREETS at the perimeter of one NEIGHBORHOOD integrate with STREETS of its adjoining NEIGHBORHOODS allowing for easy access between NEIGHBORHOODS, and whose STREETS and PEDESTRIAN PATHS do not utilize overly circuitous routing.

The segregation of STREETS by anticipated traffic loads, traffic routing, and traffic types, such as by LOCAL STREETS, COLLECTOR STREETS, and ARTERIAL STREETS, or by RESIDENTIAL STREETS and COMMERCIAL STREETS.  In the POST-WAR era, segregation was typically planned by minimizing THROUGH TRAFFIC within a neighborhood by using a non-uniform and/or circuitous STREET layout, the use of CUL-DE-SACS and/or LOOP STREETS for LOCAL STREETS, collecting local traffic onto wider COLLECTOR STREETS that run through a NEIGHBORHOOD, and dispersing collector traffic onto even wider ARTERIAL STREETS which connect multiple NEIGHBORHOODS and carry TRHOUGH TRAFFIC across a TOWN, CITY, COUNTY or METROPOLITAN AREA.

  A linear building acting as a SHOPPING CENTER set back from a STREET, with continuous parking contained within its LOT or TRACT in front of the building and which is subdivided into tenant lease spaces for RETAIL and SERVICE businesses.  A strip center can be a single long building, a building laid out in an "L", "U", or other shape, or it can be a group of such buildings on a single TRACT of land.

  AUTO-ORIENTED DEVELOPMENT (POST-WAR suburban strip commercial) or PEDESTRIAN-ORIENTED DEVELOPMENT (PRE-WAR/urban/historic strip commercial) consisting of COMMERICAL LAND USE along a PRIMARY STREET.

  The dividing of a large TRACT of land into multiple smaller LOTS, often including the establishment of STREETS, ALLEYS, and EASEMENTS for the purpose of accessing and servicing those LOTS, and formally documenting this division via a PLAT.

  A definable collection of LOTS and associated STREETS, ALLEYS, and EASEMENTS that were subdivided and PLATTED from a larger TRACT, and that is named to establish its identity and, thereby, its location.

  The smaller portions of an initial LOT that has been SUBDIVIDED into two or more PARCELS for the purpose of separate sale and DEVELOPMENT.

  A COMMUNITY located in close proximity to a large TOWN or a CITY, often as one of a group of such communities, and whose economy and SOCIAL IDENTITY is directly tied to the economy and SOCIAL IDENTITY of the larger TOWN or CITY.

  The type of DEVELOPMENT typical of SUBURBS, especially SUBURBS of the POST-WAR era, which are noted for LOW DENSITY AUTO-ORIENTED DEVELOPMENT.

  Relating to a SUBURB or SUBURBS in general, and/or the lifestyle of the residents of SUBURBS.

  The type of DEVELOPMENT within or around a large TOWN or CITY, especially the DEVELOPMENT associated with the POST-WAR era.

  A form of RAPID TRANSIT transportation utilizing rail-based self-propelled vehicles that run on tracks located within tunnels beneath a CITY or URBAN AREA, accessed by stations at closely-spaced intervals.

  Any one of the following:
  • A significantly large TRACT or group of LOTS, surrounded by STREETS on all sides, that is intended for DEVELOPMENT
  • A group of smaller BLOCKS and associated STREETS within an established URBAN AREA that have been consolidated into a larger single BLOCK for the purpose of URBAN-renewal or other large-scale DEVELOPMENT
  • An overly large block utilized within the initial PLAT of a TOWN, typically more than roughly 400 feet of length minimum on any given side
  • An overly large block utilized within the initial PLAT of a TOWN that often contains LOTS that have been subdivided into SUBLOTS, that has groups of SUBLOTS accessed by DEAD-END STREETS, and/or that has been further subdivided into smaller BLOCKS utilizing STREETS that run across the initial BLOCK
SUPER-BLOCK DEVELOPMENT:  The building or buildings proposed for or built on a SUPER-BLOCK.

  COMMERCIAL establishments that purchase and store non-RETAIL products for sale and distribution to other businesses or specialty customers.

  One or more of the following:
  • The act of determining the actual location and direction of the boundaries of STATES, COUNTIES or other government entities, PARCELS, TRACTS or LOTS, and accurately documenting those locations and features upon a drawing at a scale by which distances can be measured and physical relationships discerned
  • The act of determining the geographic qualities of all geographic features within a given area, and accurately documenting those locations and features upon a drawing at a scale by which distances can be measured and physical relationships discerned
  • The placement of physical markers within or around a PARCEL of land and located via surveying instruments based upon a drawn SURVEY document, establishing upon the ground all of the boundary corners, boundary lines, LOT locations, RIGHTS-OF-WAYS, EASEMENTS, ROADWAYS, and land modifications

  A graphic document drawn to a scale by which distances can be measured and physical relationships discerned that shows all existing or proposed boundaries, LOTS, RIGHTS-OF-WAYS, EASEMENTS, and ROADWAYS, and/or that represents the geographic qualities and features, within a given area.

  A street used by or designated for THROUGH TRAFFIC.Also, a STREET that is not a CUL-DE-SAC or a DEAD-END STREET.

  A PRIMARY STREET within a VILLAGE, TOWN, CITY, COUNTY or METROPOLITAN AREA that travels across a significant portion of the DEVELOPED AREA and that carries a significant quantity of THROUGH TRAFFIC.

  Vehicular traffic that has one or more of the following characteristics:
  • Traffic that travels or intends to travel a significant distance on an EXPRESSWAY, FREEWAY, or HIGHWAY
  • Traffic that travels a significant distance within or across a VILLAGE, TOWN, CITY, COUNTY, or METROPOLITAN AREA
  • Traffic that initiates in one NEIGHBORHOOD and has a destination in another NEIGHBORHOOD, often traveling through or around one or more other NEIGHBORHOODS
  • Traffic that travels through a NEIGHBORHOOD
  • Traffic that travels on a BLOCK or STREET that does not initiate on or have a destination on that BLOCK or STREET 
TOLLWAY/TURNPIKE:  A CONTROLLED-ACCESS HIGHWAY for which payment must be made for a vehicle to access and use.

  A VILLAGE, TOWN, or CITY whose economy is based primarily upon short-term housing of and/or entertainment of travelers and/or visitors (aka "VACATION COMMUNITY").

  A COMMUNITY that is larger than a VILLAGE but smaller than a CITY, and whose economy and SOCIAL INFLUENCE impact a relatively small area of a REGION or STATE.  Also, a general term for a COMMUNITY or its BUILT ENVIRONMENT.

  The principal subdivision of a COUNTY commonly used in the New England states.  The TOWN in New England typically covers a large area of both RURAL and DEVELOPED areas, and typically encompasses all COMMUNITIES located within its boundaries.  The TOWN GOVERNMENT typically provides many, most, or all services typically associated with the municipal, TOWNSHIP, and COUNTY GOVERNMENTS in non-New England states.  VILLAGES and larger COMMUNITIES in New England are typically only named locations of DEVELOPED areas, and tend to have no or little independent authority or municipal services of their own.  The larger CITIES in New England tended to have been TOWNS that grew in population such that they had to change GOVERNMENT structure from the simpler open town meeting structure to a more typical structure led by a mayor or city manager in conjunction with a city council, and are often coextensive to the historic boundaries of their town.  However, a few CITIES in New England have separated from and have become separate GOVERNMENT and physical entities from their surrounding/adjacent TOWN.  

  Two or more VILLAGES, TOWNS, or combination thereof in close proximity to each other, such that their daily ECONOMIC INFLUENCE and SOCIAL INFLUENCE are intertwined.

  The predetermined layout of a TOWN.Also, the initial PLAT of a TOWN.

  An outdoor PUBLIC SPACE, typically rectangular or SQUARE in shape, typically encompassing one BLOCK but can also cover multiple adjacent BLOCKS, and that is most often located in a central location within the historic COMMERCIAL DISTRICT of a VILLAGE, TOWN, or CITY (aka "PUBLIC SQUARE" or "SQUARE").

  A defined and named area established under STATE charter and/or the TOWNSHIP & RANGE SURVEY that defines a geographic SUBDIVISION within a COUNTY, and that in many STATES has an organized GOVERNMENT that provides limited SERVICES to the citizens of the TOWNSHIP.  Also, the primary subdivision of the TOWNSHIP AND RANGE SURVEY.

  The SURVEY of the Public Land Survey System, initiated by the Federal Government in the late 18th Century and applied to most of the post-colonial STATES of the United States.  The SURVEY established numerous east-west base lines, along with numerous north-south meridians, throughout the PUBLIC lands of the various territories of the post-revolutionary period.  From these baselines and meridians the lands were surveyed and subdivided into TOWNSHIPS, defined as a square REGION of six SECTIONS running east-west and six SECTIONS running north-south, and containing 36 SECTIONS of land.  Each TOWNSHIP was given a number sequence defined by the number of TOWNSHIPS north or south of a given baseline, and the number of ranges east or west of a given meridian (e.g. T2N, R8W).  The SECTIONS within each TOWNSHIP were then numbered sequentially, starting with Section 1.  Many of these TOWNSHIPS were subsequently given specific names for day-to-day and formal identity, especially once a TOWNSHIP had been populated enough to warrant establishment of a TOWNSHIP GOVERNMENT.  This system allowed for simplified selection and documentation of properties during the HOMESTEADING and SETTLEMENT of the vast lands obtained by the United States after the Revolution.

  Land that has specific and legally-described boundaries (aka "PARCEL").

  The type of DEVELOPMENT generally found in areas established during the PRE-WAR Era and typically based upon PEDESTRIAN-FRIENDLY patterns.

  A system of transporting people in groups utilizing vehicles that pick up and drop off passengers at predetermined locations on established routes.  Transit vehicles can be small or large passenger buses, passenger vans, or passenger rail cars.

  A station that serves multiple TRANSIT routes and often multiple TRANSIT systems (e.g. bus and rail) for the purpose of passenger transfer between TRANSIT routes.

A RIGHT-OF-WAY that is dedicated solely to TRANSIT service.  Also, a ROADWAY in which VEHICULAR traffic is restricted or eliminated for the purpose of running TRANSIT routes.

  PEDESTRIAN-ORIENTED DEVELOPMENT located adjacent to or within walking distance of a rail TRANSIT station, or along a bus TRANSIT route.

  The separation of traffic types into distinct RIGHTS-OF-WAY, routes, or structures.  Such segregation might encompass PEDESTRIAN PATHWAYS that run throughout a NEIGHBORHOOD via interconnected OPEN SPACES and running such PATHWAYS above or below a ROADWAY when they cross, or it might encompass multi-level ROADWAYS to separate truck traffic from automobile traffic in URBAN AREAS or within a COMPLEX, or the use of elevated PEDESTRIAN PLAZAS and PATHWAYS or subterranean PATHWAYS within a large COMPLEX of buildings or across several BLOCKS within a CITY to segregate PEDESTRIAN traffic from vehicular traffic.

  A structure, built underground or through a raised geographic feature, for an aqueduct, canal, ROADWAY, RAILROAD, SUBWAY, UTILITY or other similar system that runs through a hill, mountain or similar geographic feature, beneath a waterway, beneath a PARCEL or several PARCELS of land, and/or beneath an area of existing DEVELOPMENT.  

  A ROADWAY or RAILROAD which is cut into the land such that it can pass beneath another ROADWAY or RAILROAD that runs at or near grade level.

  A COMMUNITY that does not have its own municipal GOVERNMENT, and is not included within the boundaries of an INCORPORATED VILLAGE, TOWN, or CITY.  Government SERVICES for such a COMMUNITY are typically provided by the TOWNSHIP and/or COUNTY within which the COMMUNITY is located.

  The areas of a COUNTY that are not included within the INCORPORATED boundaries of the VILLAGES, TOWNS, or CITIES within the COUNTY.  Such areas can be either RURAL or DEVELOPED AREAS.

URBAN (LAND USE):  Relating to one of the following:
  • A type of BUILT ENVIRONMENT in which buildings are closely spaced, allowing for PEDESTRIAN-FRIENDLY environments
  • A type of BUILT ENVIRONMENT in which a sizable quantity of buildings are MID-RISE DEVELOPMENTS and/or HIGH-RISE DEVELOPMENT

  The people who live in CITIES and/or METROPOLITAN AREAS.Also, the social characteristics of people who live in URBAN areas.



  The detrimental physical and/or social effects of significant population loss, low-income or poverty concentration, and/or abandonment of homes, businesses, industries, services, and institutions within an established DEVELOPED AREA.

  The practice of conceiving plans and codifications (CODES) for the betterment of COMMUNITIES, VILLAGES, TOWNS, and CITIES.

  The aesthetic, cultural, social and/or emotional connections commonly held among a group of people regarding a large TOWN, TOWN GROUP, CITY, COUNTY, METROPOLITAN AREA, or METROPOLITAN GROUP.


  A PUBLIC OPEN SPACE within an URBAN environment within a CITY, typically with significant paving and integrated landscaping, and including a variety of passive and active uses, often with sculpture, fountains, performance venues, eating establishments, gardens, lawns and other components and activities that together create a dynamic aesthetic and social experience, and that typically has a strong emotional connection for the people living in and visitors to the CITY.

  An aspect of URBAN DESIGN that generally encompasses determining the location of LAND USES, OPEN SPACES, and INSTITUTIONAL uses, and determining aesthetic and functional criteria by which URBAN DEVELOPMENT is to occur.

  The refurbishment or re-building of decayed buildings, NEIGHBORHOODS, TOWNS, and CITIES, with the goal and/or effect of aesthetic, economic and social improvement.  Also, the positive effects on a COMMUNITY and its BUILT ENVIRONMENT brought about by economic and social improvements within an area of URBAN DECAY.

  The common SERVICES such as water, sewer, gas, electricity, telephone, and cable provided to HOUSEHOLDS and businesses for necessity, comfort and reliability, with delivery into buildings via underground piping or above ground or underground wiring running within RIGHTS-OF-WAY and EASEMENTS, and that are common to most or all residents and/or businesses.  Such SERVICES can also include such specialties as steam and/or refrigerated water generated from localized generation facilities and distributed for the heating and cooling of buildings within a defined area.

  A COMMUNITY founded by a leader of a religious or social group, or by the collective leadership of a religious or social group, for the purpose of living an idealized life based upon a unifying set of group beliefs or a particular life philosophy.

  A VILLAGE, TOWN, or CITY whose economy is based primarily upon short-term housing of and/or entertainment of visitors (aka "TOURIST COMMUNITY").

  A ROADWAY and/or RAILROAD that is elevated on a structure that runs for a significant distance above a body of water, a chasm or valley, a RAILROAD or RAILROADS, ROADWAY or ROADWAYS, or any combination thereof.


  A sizable area of a TOWN, CITY, or COUNTY encompassing many LOTS or BLOCKS and that is dominated by warehousing and distribution business uses.

  A definable area within which a LAND USE has been assigned by a GOVERNMENT entity.

  A particular LAND USE having been assigned by a GOVERNMENT entity to a TRACT, PARCEL, or group of LOTS and/or BLOCKS.

  The cumulative categories of LAND USES or a specific category of LAND USE established and governed by a PUBLIC entity, and that are restricted by category to defined areas (zones) within a VILLAGE, TOWN, CITY, or COUNTY, with each category limited by CODE to only the permitted uses within that category.  Also, the act of establishing a zoning category within a given area.

Categories: uncategorized


NOTE:  All images in this blog post, unless noted otherwise, are taken from US Geological Survey 7.5' Quadrangles, latest available editions available at the time of posting, and color adjusted by me.  All additions I have made to the images are noted with each applicable image.  All aerial images are oriented with cardinal north at the top of the image.

Cities and towns are inherently complex, covering land areas ranging from a few blocks to many hundreds of square miles.  They are made up of numerous components such as streets, blocks, buildings of various types and uses, public spaces, parks, schools, campuses, rail lines, utility rights-of-way, and even airports.  Their forms are influenced by the local geography, the rural patterns of surrounding lands into which the cities and towns grow, the regional networks of rural roads, highways, waterways, and rail lines that feed into and connect with other cities and towns, and the local traditions for development.

Maps are the way by which we can accurately describe and comprehend the physical aspects of these large creations.  It is from these maps that the characteristic patterns of streets and blocks that define a city can be understood, and can be relatable to those who live there and to those who visit.  Additional insight comes from aerial and satellite imagery, which shows us a birds-eye view of the buildings, streets, and the numerous other elements that make up a city but might not be seen on a map.  All of this information has become easily available for the public to review using such internet applications as Google Maps, Google Earth, MapQuest, and Bing Maps, which allows for armchair exploration inconceivable even a few years ago.

When the numerous cities and towns of America are looked at from above, various patterns combine to form each community's unique physical characteristics, which become its identity.  These patterns are categorized into the typologies below, representing many of the common patterns and forms found in our towns and cities across the nation.  These patterns represent each community's growth through time, its social traditions, the regional similarities it shares with other communities and the planning philosophies at various points in time.  These typologies have been organized into broader categories, such as Regional Form, Street and Block Patterns, Commercial Form, and Public Spaces.  These categories and typologies will be used in further discussions regarding individual cities, towns, and neighborhoods.


Many of the earliest communities in the United States have an historic form that develops from pre-colonial Native American traditions, or from colonial European traditions and land patterns.  The categories below represent the most common of these forms.

Pueblo Form
The Pueblo Form is common to the pre-colonial Native American communities of the southwest region of the current United States, especially in the Rio Grande valley and adjacent areas of New Mexico.  The historic form consists of a collection of adobe structures built adjacent to each other, generally oriented in a similar direction though loosely organized in groups or blocks of varying sizes, and often surrounding an open common area.

The loosely organized pueblo of Isleta Village, New Mexico

French and Spanish Land Strips Communities
Colonial farm parcels in French (especially Louisiana) and Spanish (especially New Mexico and Texas) areas of North America typically occurred along rivers and streams, and were divided into long, narrow strips of land that ran roughly perpendicularly from the watercourses, allowing for large numbers of land parcels to have access to water.  The settlements in these areas grew into these strips, strongly influencing their overall development patterns.

The Spanish land strips of Espaniola, New Mexico

The French land strips of Thibodaux, Louisiana

Random Pattern Land Form
Most of the eastern United States was settled without any pre-planned subdivision of lands.  Most farmland was claimed by settlers as they moved to new areas, with each farmer selecting a tract of land based upon pacing a boundary or by establishing boundaries based upon natural features.  This process led to a random patterning across the lands, which subsequently influenced the overall pattern and development of the communities that developed within these areas.

The surrounding random land patterns influence the form of Hanover, Pennsylvania.
Section Survey Land Form
The Township and Range Surveys of the Public Land Survey System, along with the Block Surveys of west Texas and the California Ranchos, established a rigid pattern of rectangular and square tracts of land across most of the central and western states.  These surveys typically divided land parcels oriented to the cardinal directions, though some area surveys were skewed to reflect the regional land patterning established by the Spanish or other early settlers.  This patterning would provide the framework within which towns and cities would grow, impacting their overall patterning of primary streets and subdivision boundaries.

The Township and Range section grid forms the urban and rural framework on the east side of Wichita, Kansas


Street and block patterns are the simplest method of looking at the physical identity of a city or town.  The categories below represent basic street and block pattern forms.

Random Form
The Random Form pattern is a historical pattern that consists of streets that run in various directions within a given area, creating a non-uniform pattern across numerous blocks of varying shapes and sizes.  Longer streets within this pattern often run in a meandering course, with other streets often running for only one or a few blocks.  The layout may sometimes relate to specific geographical features such as bays, rivers, creeks, ridges or hills, but more often occurs as happenstance during the initial growth of a town prior to the use of pre-planned subdivisions.  It can also result from the growth of a village into a random pattern of surrounding farm fields, with the streets and blocks adjusting to the multi-directional boundaries of the fields.

The Random form is the oldest city form of the earliest British and Dutch settlements, starting in the 17th Century, but also found in areas of Spanish settlement.  The random form is prominent among the historic towns and city centers of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, especially New England and eastern New York.

The random street patterns of New London, Connecticut

The random patterns surrounding the early Spanish settlement of Ysleta, Texas

Linear Form
The Linear Form is typical of a village that develops piecemeal along a roadway, with minimal development away from the roadway.

The linear village of Soudersburg, Pennsylvania

Crossroads Form
The Crossroads Form is typical of a village that develops where two or more highways and/or rural roads meet, with minimal development away from those highways/roads.

The crossroads community of Luxemburg, Iowa

Geographic Form
The Geographic Form is a pattern by which streets typically follow strong geographic features, especially rivers and streams, around hills, along ridges, around bays, and within valleys.  This can occur organically by happenstance, taking on the Random Form pattern, or by pre-planned layouts that intentionally relate to geographic features.

The meandering form of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, is influenced by its location in the Smokey Mountains.

The graceful streets of the Nautilus neighborhood in Miami Beach, Florida, follow the outlines of Biscayne Bay and the adjacent inland canal.

Mountainous Streets Form
The Mountainous Streets Form consists of a dynamic patterning caused by streets that use hairpin turns and curving roads that follow along mountainsides to traverse steep grades along highly sloped terrain, along with streets that follow and dead-end upon ridgelines atop mountains, hills and bluffs, or that follow and dead-end within steep valleys and ravines within mountainous areas.

The twisting streets of the Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles, California

Grid Form
The Grid Form is a result of the application of pre-planned land subdivision combined with the use of formal surveying.  The typical grid form consists of a simple pattern in which streets run in two directions at right angles to each other, with streets running uninterrupted and straight across the plan.  The parallel streets create a series of typically uniform blocks that are subdivided into uniform rectangular lots.

The Grid Form is arguably the most common initial street pattern for American cities and towns.  Starting in the 17th Century, notably with the planning of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Grid Form was used fairly consistently from the 18th Century into the early 20th Century for new communities and subdivisions as cities and towns grew.

The Grid Form can take on a surprisingly wide number of variations, and can be further refined into the following patterns:
  • Uniform Grid:  This consists of a pattern in which all streets are the same width, and all blocks are the same size.  The blocks can be either square or rectangular 

A uniform grid on the southwest side of Chicago, Illinois
  • Axial Grid:  This pattern consists of a single primary street that is wider than the other streets, and typically centered within the grid of blocks that make up the town or subdivision.

Main Street in Perryton, Texas, is the axial spine of the original townsite grid
  • Dual-Axial Grid:  This pattern consist of two primary streets running crosswise from each other, each of which is wider than the other streets, and each typically being centered within the grid that makes up the town or subdivision. 

The original townsite grid of Upper Sandusky, Ohio, is centered upon the wider primary streets that intersect at the heart of the downtown.
  • Main Street Blocks:  This form consists of a single row of square and/or rectangular blocks to each side of the primary street of the town, with the balance of the town developing in a loose grid, non-uniform grid, or other non-grid street/block pattern.

Bernville, Pennsylvania, has a single row of rectangular blocks on each side of its main street.
  • Major/Minor Grid:  This pattern consists of a primary grid of wide streets overlaid upon a secondary grid of narrow streets, with the typical patterns consisting of narrow streets alternating with wide streets in one or both directions of the grid.  Both the major and minor streets front upon building lots.  The narrower streets can often act as service streets (such as an alley) to commercial buildings located on the wide streets and that are built to the full depth of a block, backing onto the narrow streets.

The northeast neighborhoods of Reading, Pennsylvania, are dominated by a primary square grid of wider streets.  Narrower streets running north/south alternate between the wider streets, forming rectangular blocks which are further subdivided by alleys that also run north/south.
  • Non-Uniform Grid:  This pattern consists of parallel streets running in two directions at right angles.  However, the street spacing varies, and the blocks are not uniform in size.Some streets run continuously, while others run intermittently.  This pattern is often associated with a series of subdivisions, where each subdivision creates its own pattern of streets and blocks that vary from adjacent and surrounding subdivisions. 

A non-uniform grid on the southwest side of Springfield, Missouri
  • Subdivided Grid:  This form consists of a uniform grid of streets forming large blocks that were later subdivided into smaller blocks of typically varying patterns and sizes.  This form stems from either an original large-block town plan or subdivision whose sizable blocks contained estate lots, or from a planned group of small rural agricultural tracts for family farms or orchards.  These lots were later either subdivided individually, or lots were consolidated and subdivided for development.

The historic large blocks on the east side of Salt Lake City, Utah, have been subdivided in a variety of ways.
  • Parallelogram Grid:  This pattern consists of parallel streets that run in two directions, but the angle between the two street directions is other than a right angle.

Parallelogram blocks south of Wilshire Boulevard and west of LaBrea Avenue in Los Angeles, California
  • Loose Grid:  This pattern consists of streets that generally run in two directions, but the individual streets or groups of streets do not run exactly parallel, and streets are not always continuous across multiple blocks.  This form can often meld into an organic form when street patterns start to vary significantly in direction.

The loose grid of Harlan, Kentucky

Additionally, different grid patterns can occur in a variety of ways across a large area, and can be categorized as follows:
  • Grid Groups:  This pattern consists of two or more uniform grids with streets running in the same directions but with each grid consisting of different sized blocks, or blocks in differing orientation (e.g., one grid with block lengths oriented north-south, with a second grid with block lengths oriented east-west). 

A variety of grids on the east side of Pampa, Texas
  • Rotated Grids:  This pattern consists of two or more groups of grids, with each group oriented at a different angle to each other.The intersection between two such groups consists of angled street intersections and triangular or trapezoidal blocks.

Rotated grids in Lancaster, Pennsylvania
  • Shifted Grids:  This pattern consists of two or more groups of grids of matching orientation, but with each group offset from each other along a shared edge such that the streets running in the same direction do not align between grids.

Shifted grids on the west side of Waco, Texas

Formalist Ideal Form
The Formalist Ideal is a planning principal utilizing formal patterns as a defining element of an initial city or neighborhood plan.  This form tends to consist of radial avenues emanating from formal public squares or parks, or symmetrical patterns planned about formal public spaces or primary streets.  The underlying street patterns tend to be grid form in nature, but can also consist of concentric rings or curved streets that arc between the radial streets.  Though this ideal was instituted for new towns in America as early as the late 1700's, most notably with Washington, D.C., it was also influential to the later City Beautiful Movement of the late 1800's/early 1900's.

Washington, District of Columbia, whose site was selected for a new national capital in 1790, has a formal layout based upon a plan by Pierre Charles L'Enfant.

The 1896 layout for New Plymouth, Idaho, consists of a simple grid of streets that turn to form a beautiful pattern of crescent and radial streets.  A horseshoe-shaped landscaped boulevard encompasses the town.

Planned Naturalist Form
The Planned Naturalist Form was applied to many new towns and subdivisions of the late 1800's and early 1900's, based upon an ideal of nature as an antidote to the overcrowded and polluted cities of the era.  The street pattern of this form tends to consist of sweeping curves and angled intersections in an attempt to create "natural" forms in contrast to the perceived rigid/harsh forms of cities.  Lots were typically significantly larger than in cities, with homes set back from the street with landscaped yards and parkways.  This form initially developed with the commuter rail suburbs of the time period, which were located outside of large cities along commuter rail lines that fed into the cities.  However, this form was also influential in the layouts of numerous subdivisions within cities, towns, and automobile suburbs into the early 1900's.

The graceful streets of Riverside, Illinois, outside of Chicago, were laid out in 1869 by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted.

City Beautiful Form
The City Beautiful Form is the result of the City Beautiful Movement of the late 1800's/early 1900's, which was an urban aesthetic and social movement in the same time period as the Naturalist Form.  The movement was an attempt to recreate portions of cities and/or to extend cities in a grand, formal fashion in order to both beautify the city and to evoke positive social development of its citizens.  The City Beautiful Form is typically an overlay of formal elements upon other forms, such as the grid form, creating dynamic landscaped boulevards that connect civic buildings, grand public plazas surrounded by formal civic buildings (civic center), and both formal and naturalist urban parks within and on the edges of cities.

The beautiful diagonal boulevards, public spaces, and tree-lined avenue leading to graceful parks in Buffalo, New York, were developed as part of the City Beautiful Movement.

Post-War Suburban Form
The period after World War II brought about radical departures from previous city and town forms.  This occurred as a culmination of numerous factors, including the academic re-thinking of urban living brought about via the modernist architectural movement of the early 1900's, zoning based upon the CIAM and the Athens Charter, and the dynamic social, economic, political and technological influences that were prominent in the mid-to-late 20th Century.  The street forms that came out of these changes were based upon the use of the automobile as the primary mode of transportation for all activities.  This was also the period during which zoning and its requirement of the separation of land uses became prominent, as well as the desire to channel heavier traffic onto primary roads while minimizing or eliminating through-traffic on residential streets.

Levittown, New York, is the seminal post-war suburb.

The graceful curving streets  of several 1970's and 1980's era neighborhoods on the west side of Amarillo, Texas

All of these factors brought about the use of dynamic and often purposefully disjointed street patterns.  Streets with dog-leg or right-angle turns, curving or looping streets, and cul-de-sacs discouraged through-traffic in residential neighborhoods while also creating a casual aesthetic that many post-war home buyers would find appealing.  A loose patterning of streets into large super-blocks and development tracts would also be used along and around highways, primary roads and their intersections for newly developed commercial districts.  These commercial districts would consist of large commercial lots on which all parking for the individual use was required to be accommodated, bringing about a total break from the contiguous, mixed-use, sidewalk-oriented commercial districts that came before.

Recent suburban development in Joliet and Shorewood, Illinois, outside of Chicago

Urban Renewal Form
The 1950's and 1960's saw a major shift in the movement of people and businesses out of older large cities, and out of the downtowns and central neighborhoods of other cities and towns across America.  To fight back, cities and towns during this time period tried to re-make themselves in a "modern" way in an attempt to entice businesses and people to stay in or move back to our downtowns and city neighborhoods.  Cities used urban renewal monies available from federal and state governments and/or from their own taxing authority, along with their powers of eminent domain, to consolidate numerous lots and blocks to build new modernist complexes such as government centers, convention centers, coliseums, stadiums, universities, office plazas, retail malls and housing complexes.

The primary form used in this urban renewal era was the urban super-block.  The urban super-block is a large parcel of land consolidated from numerous smaller blocks, cleared of most or all previous buildings and through streets to allow for new large-scale development.  Superblocks are obvious in their overly large size compared with surrounding block patterns, with buildings often grouped in a campus-like setting or consisting of a comparatively oversized building (mega-building) covering most of or the entire site.

A large percentage of smaller rectangular blocks in downtown Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, were consolidated for urban renewal projects in the last half of the 20th century.
(Urban renewal areas are highlighted in orange and red by me.)

A significant portion of the Lower East Side of Manhattan in New York City, New York, was gutted in the mid-20th century to make way for massive urban renewal programs.  The result is the series of consolidated superblocks along the East River which are filled with a random pattern of high-rise housing set within the open blocks.

Lawton, Oklahoma, tore out half of its historic downtown in the 1970's in order to build a suburban-style shopping mall in an effort to stave off the decline of the downtown area.  Note the remnants of the city's historic main street along the north edge of the mall's north parking area.

New Urbanism Form
The New Urbanism Form is based upon the New Urbanism movement.  This movement developed as a reaction against the auto-oriented suburban sprawl brought about by the Post-War Suburban Form, as well as the urban renewal development seen in large cities throughout the last half of the 20th Century.  Academic and grass-roots criticism of post-war planning started in the 1960's, gained traction in the 1970's, and started to become influential in the 1980's, gaining significant momentum into the 21st Century.  The basic ideal of New Urbanism is to return to the basic relationships of pre-war town and city form, allowing for pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods and commercial districts, mixed-use planning, a variety of housing types, and pedestrian and transit-oriented design to decrease automobile dependence and to reduce auto traffic congestion.  The street patterning consists of a pedestrian-friendly web of streets typically consisting of a variation on the grid or a combination of gridded and curvilinear streets, along with formal placement of parks, public spaces, playgrounds and public facilities to give communities a unique identity and a sense of place.  New Urbanism can occur as new developments in suburbia, as redevelopment of former industrial or other sites within cities, or as smaller infill development within a town or city.

Seaside, Florida, was the first major planned community in the United States to be designed and built based upon the concepts of New Urbanism.

New Urbanism is being used to redevelop the site of the former Stapleton International Airport in Denver, Colorado.


Most all cities and towns develop and exist as commercial entities.  They begin and grow primarily because of an economic benefit to their location, with that benefit impacting the size of their population.

Towns begin their existence at a particular location and time, and this location tends to become and remain the historic commercial center of the community.  This commercial center creates a pattern that is a unique feature of each city or town, and can often still be inferred even after significant growth over time.  As towns grow, new commercial patterns develop based upon economic and social changes, along with advancements in transportation.

Following are a number of typologies that can be used to categorize cities and towns relative to their commercial forms.Most cities and towns have commercial forms that span more than one typology.

Traditional Commercial Form
This form consists of the contiguous sidewalk-oriented retail and commercial development typical of the historic commercial districts of towns or cities, Commuter Suburb, Street-Car or other historic neighborhoods, or within New Urbanist communities.  Such commercial areas, either historically or currently, are also adjacent to medium to high density pedestrian-friendly residential neighborhoods, allowing for easy pedestrian access between residential and commercial areas.

Downtown San Luis Obispo, California, consists of traditional blocks that are pedestrian-friendly and filled with contiguous buildings containing numerous retail stores, restaurants, and services.

Main Street Commercial Form
Arguably the most common initial commercial form, this consists of contiguous commercial buildings that run along one or both sides of a primary street, typically for several blocks.  This form can develop from and be identified by the following characteristics:
  • Commercial Road:  This form develops from an initial village that grew linearly along a primary road.  The primary identifier for this sub-form is a commercial district consisting of a linear series of contiguous buildings along a primary street, with non-uniform and offset streets and blocks to either side of the primary street.

Ephrata, Pennsylvania, developed along the commercial road that runs from the northwest to the southeast.
  • Crossroads:  This form develops from an initial village that grows primarily along one of two or more intersecting well-travelled roads.  The primary identifier for this sub-form is a commercial district consisting of a linear series of contiguous buildings, with a series of non-uniform and offset streets and blocks to either side of the primary streets that intersect, creating a loose grid, non-uniform grid, or random form pattern within each segment between the primary roads. 

Doylestown, Pennsylvania, grew from the site of a tavern at a crossroads north of Philadelphia.  The commercial district extends along both routes.
  • Front Street:  This form is identified by a linear commercial district that is focused along a street that runs alongside (fronts) a waterfront on a bay, along a river or canal, or along a rail line.  The front street commercial buildings of this form can be along one side of the street, with the other side open to the water or rail line, or the commercial buildings can be on both sides of the street, with buildings on one side backing onto the water or rail line.

Beaufort, North Carolina, has an historic commercial district along its waterside front street.

Spencerville, Ohio, has a front street commercial district alongside the MIami and Erie Canal upon which it was founded around 1840.

Rocky Mount, North Carolina, has a commercial district focused along the two front streets that parallel each side of the railroad upon which the town was founded.
  • Grid Main Street:  This commercial form develops primarily along both sides of one street that is typically centered within a pre-planned grid form covering numerous blocks in each direction. 

Summit Street in Arkansas City, Kansas is the primary commercial street within the historic town grid.

Town Square Commercial Form
This common form consists of contiguous commercial buildings that face upon a town square along each of the blocks that surround the square. 

The central commercial district of Lincoln, Illinois, is focused around the town's historic courthouse square.

District Commercial Form
This form consists of focused commercial development across multiple streets and blocks.  This can occur in the central part of a pre-planned grid form, as the later development from an earlier front street or main street commercial form, or as focused development along two or more intersecting streets.  This form can also be a designed component of pre-war planned suburbs and New Urbanism development.

Champaign, Illinois, has an historic commercial district that spans multiple blocks and streets adjacent to the Illinois Central (now Canadian National) railroad.

Historic Industrial District
Prior to World War II, transportation of raw materials and manufactured goods for trade primarily occurred via rail and/or water.  Additionally, workers often did not own cars, and so many or most workers would walk to work or take some form of public transportation to reach the industrial plants.  Both of these situations required companies to build their plants within or immediately adjacent to a neighborhood, town or city.  The Historic Industrial District contains the large-scale industrial buildings from the Pre-War Era.  The buildings are either one or more stories, and tend to be located adjacent to the historic commercial and/or residential areas of a town.  The buildings often cover an area larger than the typical blocks found within the community.

Historic steel mills line the south bank of a waterway in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.  Downtown is immediately to the southwest, with adjacent residential neighborhoods to the south.

Historic textile mills in Lowell, Massachusetts, lined the numerous canals that surround downtown.  The canals were were built in 1820 as a power source for the mills.

Historic Warehouse District
Historic Warehouse Districts, similar to the Historic Industrial District, tended to locate near rail and/or water transport in larger towns and cities, adjacent to the historic commercial district.  Typically larger than most commercial buildings of the period, but generally not as large in footprint as major factories, these warehouse buildings would often be built within the typical blocks found within the community.

The large-scale historic warehouse buildings in Old Town in central Wichita, Kansas, have been transformed into a popular entertainment district that houses shops, restaurants, galleries, and clubs.

Long, narrow historic warehouses line the waterfront in downtown Savannah, Georgia.

Commuter Suburb Commercial Form
This form consists of a commercial district focused around a commuter rail station on one or both sides of the railroad tracks within a suburb in a large metropolitan area.  The form can occur as a front street, main street or district format, but developed primarily to serve the community housing the station, as opposed to serving as a regional commercial center.

The pedestrian-friendly downtown of Lake Forest, Illinois, is adjacent to the town's commuter rail station in suburban Chicago.

Street Car Commercial Form
This form consists of contiguous sidewalk-oriented retail and commercial buildings that developed along street car lines in neighborhoods of pre-war cities.  This commercial development was surrounded by pedestrian-friendly moderate to high-density residential neighborhoods.

The commercial strip along Lincoln Avenue south of Belmont Avenue in Chicago, Illinois, developed along a streetcar line.

Suburban Strip Commercial Form
This form consists of a variety of commercial buildings along a primary artery, with each building set back from the road and apart from each other, and fronting upon parking lots located adjacent to the road.  The buildings can be single-use, or can be shopping centers that house multiple establishments in a linear, L-shaped, or U-shaped strip center format.  This form typically develops piecemeal over time.

The automobile-oriented development along Broad Street in suburban Richmond, Virginia, is typical of modern American commercial strips.

Suburban Commercial District
Similar to the Suburban Strip Commercial Form, this district spans a larger area, both on major arterial streets as well as along collector or local roadways to one or both sides of the arterials.  Buildings are located on individual blocks with each building set back from the road and apart from each other, and fronting upon parking lots located adjacent to the road.  Retail is typically focused along and at the intersections of the major roads, with offices and service businesses on the remaining parcels.  Some districts also can include supply houses, distribution centers, and light industry, especially if located adjacent to major transportation such as highways and railways.

A suburban commercial district developed around the intersection of Wolflin Avenue and Georgia Street in Amarillo, Texas, starting in the 1950's.

Pre-Planned Suburban Commercial Form
This form consists of a large area of suburban-style commercial development tracts in a pre-planned layout initiated by a single developer, and consisting primarily of low to mid-rise offices buildings, ancillary retail and commercial buildings, and often with a large retail shopping complex as its focus.  Occasionally such development might include one or more outdoor public/semi-public spaces, such as parks and/or plazas, around which much of the development occurs.  This district often provides the commercial identity for a particular suburban community or groups of communities.  This form is often part of a larger planned post-war suburban development that incorporated residential, commercial, and public components, but prior to the development of the New Urbanism movement.

The Woodlands, Texas, is a master planned community that began in the 1970's outside of Houston, Texas.  Its commercial district was designed around a retail shopping mall and an office district located along a small lake and a canal.

Suburban Mall Commercial Form
This form focuses a large area of suburban-style commercial development around a large enclosed or open-air shopping mall or lifestyle center.  The surrounding commercial development can occur piecemeal after the initial development of the mall, or as a pre-planned component of a large planned suburban development encompassing large amounts of housing and commercial development.

A large suburban commercial district sprang up around the 1970's-era Fox Valley Mall in Aurora, Illinois, outside of Chicago.

New Urbanism Commercial Form
This form consists of a contiguous group of similarly-designed sidewalk-oriented commercial buildings, occasionally also including residential units and/or offices on upper floors, in a pre-planned layout that attempts to re-create traditional commercial street forms.  This can be part of a larger New Urbanism Form community, but can also be a self-contained suburban development that attempts to act as a town center for the surrounding suburban area.

Reston, Virginia, located outside of Washington, D.C., is a planned community that began in the 1960's.  Beginning in the 1980's, the location for the intended commercial center was developed as a New Urbanism-styled town center, incorporating small-scaled blocks focused upon a main street, and incorporating retail, restaurant, office, and residential uses in a pedestrian-friendly development.

Suburban Office District
The Suburban Office District is a commercial area that houses primarily low-rise, mid-rise, and/or occasional high-rise office buildings of various sizes.  The buildings can be individual on a lot containing all required parking, or a campus of similarly-designed buildings with associated parking located on a super-block parcel of land.  Pre-planned office park developments often provide landscaping for each lot, as well as specified architectural design requirements.  A minimal amount of retail, services, and restaurants might be included within the district to serve the office workers.

The "Technology Corridor", stretching along both sides of Interstate 88 in west suburban Chicago, Illinois, contains a large number of low-to-mid-rise office buildings and office parks.

Suburban Industrial District
Similar to the Suburban Office District, the Suburban Industrial District is an area that houses primarily light-industry and distribution buildings.  The buildings are typically one-story but large-scaled, and sit on their own lot containing all automobile and truck parking as well as associated off-street loading facilities.  Pre-planned industrial parks often provide landscaping for each lot, as well as specified architectural design requirements.  A minimal amount of retail, services, and restaurants might be included within the district to serve the industrial workers.

A massive collection of large-scale warehouse and distribution complexes has developed along Interstate 55 in southwest suburban Chicago, Illinois.  Note the size of these buildings compared with the nearby residential subdivisions.

Categories: uncategorized


The following list encompasses specialty terms, some obvious but others possibly not so much, relating to our built environment and are given a general definition as intended to be used within the Geosthetics Blog.  Words within the definition that are CAPITALIZED AND UNDERLINED are terms defined elsewhere in the Glossary.

  A transportation route, either dedicated to a GOVERNMENT entity for PUBLIC use or provided as a private EASEMENT among multiple LOT owners, which is used to access multiple LOTS.

  Non-work activities that have one of the following characteristics:
  • Individual or group physical activity that requires significant exertion, such as exercise, biking, rollerblading, or skateboarding
  • Physical activity with structured rules, such as individual or groups sports
  • Amusements that involve active participation, such as games or amusement rides
AGRICULTURAL (LAND USE):  A category of LAND USE for growing crops, including food crops such as grains, vegetables, fruits, and nuts, as well as non-food crops such as cotton and tobacco.  Also included are grazing lands for cattle, sheep and horses, along with lands devoted to raising swine, foul, fish, and other food animals.

  A VILLAGE, TOWN, or CITY whose primary economy is based and dependent upon the support of the surrounding AGRICULTURAL area.

  A primarily RESIDENTIAL SUBDIVISION that is built on the grounds of or adjacent to a general aviation airport, in which many of the homes have their own airplane hangar on their LOT with direct access to taxiways that connect with the airport's runways.

  A narrow ACCESS WAY, typically unnamed, that is used as a service route for deliveries and trash removal for multiple LOTS.

  A ROADWAY that is established as a primary THROUGH ROUTE within a VILLAGE, TOWN, CITY, or COUNTY.  An arterial is often wider than LOCAL STREETS or COLLECTOR STREETS, often with more than two lanes of traffic and with signalized intersections at select cross streets (aka "PRIMARY STREET").

  A private organization comprised of members who own property/properties within a defined area and who collectively own the common elements of the defined area either via a percentage-of-ownership basis or ownership of a given amount of stock that is common to the owners, and that is responsible for the management, maintenance, repair, security and supervision of the common elements.  

  An influential written summary of the fourth CIAM, published by Swiss architect LeCorbusier in 1943, describing modernist thoughts on architecture and URBAN DESIGN.  This charter would significantly influence ZONING, SUBURBAN DEVELOPMENT, and URBAN RENEWAL in 20th Century American cities.

  Patterns of LAND USE that are based upon the use of the automobile as the primary and often sole means of personal transportation, and the truck as the primary and often sole method of shipping and delivering equipment, goods, and materials.  This pattern is denoted by:
  • LOW DENSITY DEVELOPMENT spread across large areas of land
  • The segregation of different LAND USES (RESIDENTIAL, COMMERCIAL/RETAIL/INDUSTRIAL) into single-use districts
  • Individual uses that are located on individual LOTS, with buildings separated from each other and set back from the PUBLIC RIGHT-OF-WAY
  • RESIDENTIAL DEVELOPMENT that is focused upon single-family homes sitting upon sizable LOTS
  • RESIDENTIAL STREET patterns that are laid out to reduce or eliminate THROUGH TRAFFIC within a neighborhood
  • Required parking for an individual use being contained within the LOT for that use
  • COMMERCIAL buildings that are typically accessed from parking lots rather than from PUBLIC SIDEWALKS
  • PEDESTRIAN access that is minimized or discouraged due to limited or no SIDEWALKS along STREETS and the separation of buildings and uses across a large area

AUTOMOBILE SUBURB:  A typically POST-WAR COMMUNITY that develops along a major ROADWAY outside of a CITY or its historic SUBURBS, with AUTO-ORIENTED DEVELOPMENT as its primary characteristic.  An automobile SUBURB typically does not have direct access to COMMUTER RAIL or RAPID TRANSIT.

AVENUE (ROADWAY):  A broad ROADWAY lined on each side with trees.

  A SUBDIVISION, TOWN, CITY, or NEIGHBORHOOD that is located adjacent to a beach on an ocean or lake, and whose economy and/or local identity is based upon the beach.

  A VILLAGE, TOWN, or EXURBAN COMMUNITY that is primarily of RESIDENTIAL LAND USE and whose residents are typically employed in a larger adjacent or nearby TOWN or CITY.

  A type of RETAIL store that is distinguished by sizable buildings carrying a very large quantity of products within a specialty niche (a "category killer") or across a broad spectrum of products (a "discount store" or "super store"), typically at lower prices than is available at smaller retailer stores.

BLOCK (CITY AND TOWN):  A group of PLATTED LOTS typically surrounded by STREETS on each side of the group.  Also, the stretch of a STREET between two cross STREETS, or if a CUL-DE-SAC or DEAD-END STREET, the stretch of STREET from the single cross STREET to the opposite end of the STREET (STREET-BLOCK).

  A large, named and/or numbered area of land with defined boundaries, and that is surveyed and subdivided into SECTIONS or other large PARCELS of land for the purpose of TRACT identification and REGIONAL land sales.  Blocks can include the British, French, or Spanish lands encompassing such areas as settlement colonies, land grants, parishes, plantations, missions, pueblos, ranchos and other grants established via royal decree or colonial authorities during the Colonial Era along with their subsequent large-scale subdivisions.  Also included are lands identified by the American Congress to compensate soldiers and militias of the American Revolution or to pay off the Revolutionary debt, lands given to railroad companies by the Federal Government or the states for the purposes of surveying unsettled lands and building rail lines, and other unsettled lands given by governments to schools, institutions, benefactors, and other assorted groups.

BOULEVARD (ROADWAY):  A broad ROADWAY with a landscaped MEDIAN running down the center of the road.

  A structure of a ROADWAY or RAILROAD that spans a waterway.

  A property or groups of properties, often formerly INDUSTRIAL, that are redeveloped for new uses.

  An area of land that is set aside from DEVELOPMENT to act as a visual and environmental separation between differing LAND USES or for the purpose of isolating noise-generating uses from the surrounding area.


  An influential document outlining concepts for the redevelopment and growth of Chicago, Illinois and its surrounding REGION, and a landmark design representing the best ideas of the City Beautiful Movement.  The plan was initiated by both the Merchants Club and the Commercial Club of Chicago, developed by architects Daniel Burnham and Edward Bennett, and published in 1909.

A large PARCEL of land under single ownership, typically with no or minimal THROUGH STREETS, with multiple buildings spread across landscaped grounds.

  The French acronym for the "International Congresses of Modern Architecture", a European organization of early modernist architects founded in 1928.  This group was influential in the establishment of POST-WAR architecture and URBAN PLANNING principals, some of which was documented in the ATHENS CHARTER.

A very large COMMUNITY that is the home to sizable and typically varied groups of people, with strong ECONOMIC INFLUENCE and SOCIAL INFLUENCE over a large REGION of a STATE, multiple STATES, a nation or multiple nations.

CITY BEAUTIFUL MOVEMENT:  An URBAN aesthetic and social movement of the late 1800's/early 1900's by which architects and planners attempted to recreate and extend portions of cities in a grand, formal fashion in order to both beautify the city and to evoke positive social advancement of its citizens.  Design elements of the movement typically utilized an overlay of formal elements upon other existing forms, such as the grid form, creating dynamic landscaped boulevards that connect CIVIC BUILDINGS, grand PUBLIC PLAZAS surrounded by formal CIVIC BUILDINGS (CIVIC CENTER), and both formal and naturalist PARKS within and on the edges of cities.

A building or group of buildings used for PUBLIC events and/or to house PUBLIC agencies and institutions.

  A group of CIVIC BUILDINGS in close proximity to each other, which are often located within a SUPERBLOCK, along a PUBLIC MALL, or around a PUBLIC PLAZA, and often of similar design and/or scale.

  An individual or group of published requirements established by a GOVERNMENT authority relating to how DEVELOPMENT is to occur or how buildings are to be built.

A PUBLIC ROADWAY that connects multiple LOCAL STREETS with ARTERIAL STREETS.  A collector STREET often acts as the local THROUGH STREET in a NEIGHBORHOOD.

  A category of LAND USE classification devoted primarily to RETAIL and GENERAL BUSINESS uses.

A ROADWAY and adjacent BLOCKS that are dominated by RETAIL, OFFICE, and GENERAL BUSINESS uses.

  A sizable area of a NEIGHBORHOOD, VILLAGE, TOWN, CITY, or COUNTY, encompassing many BLOCKS or LOTS, and that is dominated by RETAIL, OFFICE, and GENERAL BUSINESS uses.


  A landscaped PARK that was set aside as OPEN SPACE and pasturage by a COMMUNITY at its SETTLEMENT or in its early history (aka "GREEN"), typically found in communities of the Northeastern STATES.

  A group of individuals and families and their associated DEVELOPMENTS and institutions, living in close proximity within a definable geographic area, with that area given a common name for the purpose of identification.

  Relating to travel to or from employment.

The REGIONAL area surrounding a sizable TOWN, TOWN GROUP, CITY or METROPOLITAN AREA in which a significant portion of the adult population travel to the predominant DEVELOPED AREA of that TOWN, TOWN GROUP, CITY, or METROPOLITAN AREA for their primary employment.

A REGIONAL passenger rail system, with passenger stations located several miles apart at numerous COMMUNITIES and NEIGHBORHOODS.  The primary business of the railroad is the daily delivery of passengers within the outer portions of a CITY or within SUBURBS into a central CITY area in the morning for their employment purposes, and returning those passengers to their COMMUNITIES and NEIGHBORHOODS in the evening.  Early commuter rail systems developed as part of private RAILROAD systems.  Today, COMMUTER RAIL systems tend to be PUBLIC entities, supported by both passenger fairs and by taxes across the REGION served by the commuter rail system.

  A primarily RESIDENTIAL TOWN or primarily RESIDENTIAL portion of the developed area of a COUNTY, with a significant portion of its residents traveling significant distances to a DEVELOPED AREA, TOWN, TOWN GROUP, CITY, or METROPOLITAN AREA within its REGION for their primary employment.

  A large group of interconnected buildings, or a group of buildings in close proximity under single ownership and/or management.

A pattern of DEVELOPMENT that is typical of the current era.

  A PEDESTRIAN-oriented pattern of DEVELOPMENT in which COMMERCIAL buildings are built contiguously next to each other with their entrances at the PUBLIC SIDEWALK (CONTIGUOUS STREET FRONT), with the building group typically extending for the full length of and along each side of a STREET-BLOCK, and typically continuing for multiple BLOCKS along a STREET or across a group of BLOCKS.

  A portion of a STREET RIGHT-OF-WAY along which COMMERCIAL or RESIDENTIAL buildings are built contiguously next to each other with their entrances at the PUBLIC SIDEWALK.

  A typically DIVIDED HIGHWAY, though occasionally also an undivided HIGHWAY, for which all crossing roadways are separated above or below the HIGHWAY via OVERPASSES, UNDERPASSES or VIADUCTS, with all access via INTERCHANGES at select locations.

  A large building or groups of buildings under single ownership and management designed and operated for the staging of large-scale events, including product shows, conferences, art displays, and PUBLIC events.

  The primary land and government subdivision of a STATE and within which a local government operates under STATE charter.  The state of Louisiana utilizes the term "Parish" in lieu of "County".  Alaska's primary subdivision is the "Borough"; many of Alaska's boroughs do not have a government structure due to their sparse population, but are used for geographic definition.

COURTHOUSE SQUARE:  A PUBLIC SPACE set aside in an initial TOWN PLAT that is utilized for the location of a prominent courthouse building, often surrounded by landscaping.

  A ROADWAY or portion of a ROADWAY with one of the following characteristics:
  • A STREET that has a single point of access from another STREET, and that has at its opposite end a round or rectangular area of pavement wider than the ROADWAY that allows for a driver to reverse direction with continuous movement without having to stop the vehicle
  • The round or rectangular pavement at the end of a ROADWAY that is wider than the ROADWAY allowing for a driver to reverse direction with continuous movement without having to stop the vehicle
  • A rounded or rectangular paved area that bulges away from a ROADWAY at a right-angle or dog-leg turn of a STREET, allowing for access to fan-shaped LOTS at the turn
  • A rounded or rectangular paved area that bulges away from the ROADWAY at an intermediate location within a STREET-BLOCK, allowing for access to fan-shaped LOTS within the block

A STREET that has a single point of access from another STREET, and that stops at the opposite end such that a vehicle must stop and back-up in order to change direction.  In some instances, a short paved area might extend at a right angle on one or both sides of a dead end (an "EL" or "TEE") to allow for a vehicle to turn into the paved area, then back up to then reverse direction.

  The amount of DEVELOPMENT within a given area.  Density can be measured in a number of ways, including number of RESIDENTIAL units per acre, average building area per LOT, or number of residents per acre.  Density can be any quantity of measure, from extremely low (such as an area of RURAL desert) to extremely high (such as densities found in large older cities, such as found in the borough of Manhattan in New York City).


  The modification of an environment categorized by one or more of the following:
  • The conversion of NATURAL AREAS into AGRICULTURAL or non-AGRICULTURAL uses
  • The conversion of AGRICULTURAL land into non-AGRICULTURAL uses.
  • The proposed or existing BUILT ENVIRONMENT of a piece of property, such as buildings, drives, parking areas, water retention ponds, landscaping, UTILITIES, etc.
  • The cumulative BUILT ENVIRONMENT of a given area, existing or proposed
  • The patterns of the BUILT ENVIRONMENT
  • The proposed or expected patterns of the future BUILT ENVIRONMENT 
DEVELOPMENT TRACT:  A piece of property that is to be reworked for the purpose of SUBDIVISION and sale of LOTS, or for the construction of a specific building or group of buildings.

  A PUBLIC ROADWAY that runs at an angle to the predominant STREET pattern.

A ROADWAY that is part of an INTERCHANGE and on which traffic flows in one direction allowing for connection between two ROADWAYS and allowing for deceleration of speed when exiting and acceleration when entering EXPRESSWAY or FREEWAY traffic.

A building or group of buildings to which manufactured products are brought for short-term or long-term storage, then shipped to retailers and/or end users within a given REGION.

  A PRIMARY ROADWAY in which opposing traffic is separated by a raised paved MEDIAN or a wide unpaved MEDIAN strip.

  The historic COMMERCIAL area of a VILLAGE, TOWN or CITY, today typically used to denote the central COMMERCIAL area as it was located at the end of World War II.

A designated RIGHT-OF-WAY within a privately-owned or publicly-owned LOT, multiple LOTS, or a TRACT of land that allows for use by non-owners of the property/properties to access adjacent property or properties, or that allows a PUBLIC or private utility to utilize a designated portion of the property/properties for the purpose of installing and maintaining their UTILITIES.

  The cumulative ability of the businesses, residents, and institutions of a VILLAGE, TOWN, TOWN GROUP, CITY, COUNTY, METROPOLITAN AREA, METROPOLITAN GROUP, or REGION to have an economic impact on the citizens within the local area, REGION, other REGIONS, STATE, nation, or nations.


ELEVATED FREEWAY:  A FREEWAY that is raised above grade via a superstructure for a significant distance in order to run above roadways, railways, and/or special land forms.

ELEVATED RAIL:  A RAILROAD that runs above surrounding grade level for a significant distance to allow for the free flow of vehicular and PEDESTRIAN traffic below it.  The RAILROAD is typically raised via a steel and/or concrete structure, or on a raised embankment with intermediate steel and/or concrete structures above the cross streets.

  A RESIDENTIAL SUBDIVISION in which LOTS are of significantly larger size than what is found in typical single-family SUBDIVISIONS within a region, but that are smaller than typical small farms of the region, and whose residents work primarily in non-AGRICULTURAL employment.

  A RESIDENTIAL LOT that is of significantly larger size than what is found in typical single-family SUBDIVISIONS within a region, but are smaller than typical small farms of the region.

  A DIVIDED HIGHWAY or undivided HIGHWAY in which some or most crossing roadways are separated above or below the HIGHWAY, with INTERCHANGES at select locations.

A small RURAL SUBDIVISION or RURAL COMMUNITY that is separated from the contiguous DEVELOPED AREA of a large TOWN, CITY, COUNTY, or METROPOLITAN AREA, but that is within the COMMUTER ORBIT and ECONOMIC ORBIT of the large TOWN, CITY, COUNTY, or METROPOLITAN AREA.

  A sizable area of woodlands within an URBAN or METROPOLITAN AREA that is dedicated to or purchased by a PUBLIC agency for perpetuity and the benefit of the PUBLIC for the purpose of maintaining natural features, OPEN SPACE, and PUBLIC RECREATION AREAS.

FREEWAY:  A CONTROLLED-ACCESS HIGHWAY for which there is no payment required for a vehicle to access or use.

The portion of a LOT and/or building that faces or abuts the PUBLIC RIGHT-OF-WAY of a ROADWAY, and which is intended as the formal entrance to or the address of the property and/or building.

  A COMMERCIAL STREET within a VILLAGE, TOWN or CITY that runs parallel to and alongside a body of water, river, canal, or RAILROAD, and that initially acted as the primary COMMERCIAL focus for the COMMUNITY.

  A ROADWAY that parallels and runs adjacent to an EXPRESSWAY , FREEWAY, or TOLLWAY/TURNPIKE.

  A primarily RESIDENTIAL SUBDIVISION, VILLAGE, or TOWN in which access to its roadways and buildings is controlled via security gates or control points, with access limited to the community's citizens and approved visitors.Access occurs at select locations which are controlled by security personnel or keyed or electronic access controls.

A category of LAND USE classification devoted primarily to non-RETAIL and non-INDUSTRIAL business uses.  Such uses might include business-to-business SERVICES, small-scale and/or large-scale OFFICE uses, and other SERVICE BUSINESSES.

A RESIDENTIAL PLANNED COMMUNITY, SUBDIVISION, VILLAGE, or TOWN that is built around or within a single golf course or multiple golf courses, with a sizable quantity of homes having LOTS that face upon the golf course fairways, and in which membership to the golf club is typically provided to a resident and HOUSEHOLD upon their purchase of a home within the COMMUNITY.

  The political institutions and agencies of a VILLAGE, TOWN, CITY, TOWNSHIP, COUNTY, STATE or nation.


  A landscaped PARK that was set aside as OPEN SPACE and pasturage by a COMMUNITY at its SETTLEMENT or in its early history (aka "COMMON"), typically found in communities of the Northeastern STATES.

  A sizable area of PUBLIC lands within or around an URBAN AREA that has been set aside land restricted from DEVELOPMENT for the purposes of the preservation of OPEN SPACE and for PUBLIC RECREATION , and/or as a BUFFER between differing LAND USES.A greenbelt, despite its color reference, can consist of wooded and non-wooded areas, including desert or semi-arid areas.

GREEN-FIELD DEVELOPMENT:  The modification of NATURAL or AGRICULTURAL land for the purpose of SUBDIVISION and sale of LOTS, or for the construction of specific buildings.

The purchasing or HOMESTEADING of land for the purpose of creating a livelihood.

Buildings within a given area that generally contain one or more of the following characteristics:
  •  Are built close together or contiguously, allowing for PEDESTRIAN-FRIENDLY NEIGHBORHOODS
  • Are of a size significantly larger than their LOT size
  • Are tall compared to buildings in the surrounding areas 
HIGH-RISE DEVELOPMENT:  A building or groups of buildings that are significantly tall and contain a large number of floors, typically more than seven floors (seven stories being the typical maximum height that can be reached by fire rescue ladders, and the typical maximum height that hydraulic elevators can service).

  A COUNTY, REGIONAL, STATE, or multi-STATE numbered and/or named ROADWAY that runs within its own RIGHT-OF-WAY and that connects multiple VILLAGES, TOWNS, or CITIES or other destinations such as airports, water ports, or REGIONAL, STATE, or national forests, parks and beaches.

The DEVELOPMENT of SUBDIVISIONS and TOWNS around a CITY prior to World War II, and that were often formed along COMMUTER RAILROADS or STREETCAR lines in larger TOWNS, CITIES, and METROPOLITAN AREAS.

  The claiming and settlement of lands under the Homestead Act of 1862, by which settlers could obtain by registration without payment the western PUBLIC lands typically identified by way of the TOWNSHIP AND RANGE SURVEY as long as the settlers established a home and established a working farm within a given time frame.

The person or persons who live within a single housing unit.

  A group of RESIDENTIAL buildings on a single piece of property or across multiple adjacent properties and/or BLOCKS, and which are under single ownership or management, built either privately or by a PUBLIC agency.

INCORPORATED (CITY/TOWN):  A VILLAGE, TOWN, or CITY that has a municipal GOVERNMENT formed under STATE charter, and that has a defined boundary for the purposes of property taxation, application of municipal ordinances and laws, and for the delivery of municipal SERVICES.

  A category of LAND USE classification devoted primarily to heavy, moderate, or light manufacturing activities, warehousing and distribution SERVICES, and other related business activities.


  A sizable property that has been ZONED and SUBDIVIDED for the purposes of INDUSTRIAL DEVELOPMENT, and that typically has planning, architectural, and management controls beyond what is typically required by municipal authorities.

INFILL DEVELOPMENT:  Property or properties and/or a building or buildings within an established area that is/are refurbished, rebuilt, or re-purposed for new uses.

INFRASTRUCTURE:  The cumulative common transportation and utility structures and systems of a COMMUNITY, SUBDIVISION, VILLAGE, TOWN, CITY, COUNTY, METROPOLITAN AREA, STATE, or nation.

INSTITUTIONAL (LAND USE):  A category of LAND USE classification devoted to PUBLIC or educational facilities, PUBLIC agencies, philanthropic or not-for-profit organizations, or medical facilities, or religious institutions.

  The movement of traffic via DIRECTIONAL RAMPS between an EXPRESSWAY or FREEWAY and a STREET and/or other EXPRESSWAY or FREEWAY, with all cross traffic separated vertically via OVERPASSES, UNDERPASSES, and/or VIADUCTS.

  A SUBDIVISION, VILLAGE or TOWN that is built upon or around a lake, and that is noted for its water-oriented lifestyle, such as fishing, boating, and swimming.

The division of a TRACT of land under single ownership into multiple LOTS to be sold to others, along with the establishment of EASEMENTS for UTILITIES and STREETS to be dedicated to a local GOVERNMENT entity or ASSOCIATION for the purpose of accessing the LOTS.

The specific category of allowed DEVELOPMENT assigned to a specific TRACT of land or within a defined area of a community by a local GOVERNMENT, categorized into the larger uses of AGRICULTURAL, COMMERCIAL (business), INDUSTRIAL, INSTITUTIONAL, RECREATION, RESIDENTIAL and/or RETAIL.

LEAP-FROG DEVELOPMENT:  The non-uniform extension of non-AGRICULTURAL DEVELOPMENT around a VILLAGE, TOWN, TOWN GROUP, CITY, or within a COUNTY, METROPOLITAN AREA, or METROPOLITAN GROUP, characterized by the patchwork SUBDIVISION of isolated TRACTS over a given RURAL or semi-RURAL area.

A large-scale retail COMPLEX of the MILLENNIAL Era characterized by individually-accessed stores, restaurants, and occasionally movie theaters within architecturally-enhanced and thematically-designed buildings along with landscaped exterior walkways, with a mixture of well-known and different-sized retailers that target upper-middle-class or high-end customers.  Such a center often has one large PLAZA or a series of landscaped PLAZAS that function as PUBLIC gathering spaces for passive activities and various events.

A category of manufacturing which is of minimal immediate environmental impact to the surrounding area (such as noise and air pollution).

  PUBLIC transportation utilizing rail cars that run on tracks that are located primarily at grade, either within a ROADWAY or along a separate dedicated RIGHT-OF-WAY.

  A non-primary ROADWAY within a NEIGHBORHOOD, or a non-primary ROADWAY that runs off of a primary ROADWAY to access local LOTS, and that is characterized by often narrower width and lower speeds than primary ROADWAYS, and with traffic controls and/or layouts to minimize or remove THROUGH TRAFFIC within a neighborhood.

  A highway connecting two or multiple highways emanating from a VILLAGE, TOWN or CITY, and that generally creates an arcing or looping path around the VILLAGE, TOWN or CITY.  

LOOP STREET:  A ROADWAY within a neighborhood that has one of the following characteristics:
  • A STREET that runs roughly perpendicularly from a cross STREET, then turns multiple times or in a single arc to return to the initial cross STREET creating a second intersection (aka "horseshoe street")
  • A STREET that runs roughly perpendicularly from a cross STREET, then turns multiple times or in a single arc to return to the initial run, creating an intermediate intersection between the initial cross STREET and the initial turn (aka "lasso street")
  • A STREET that runs roughly perpendicularly from a cross STREET, then turns direction one or multiple times or via a single arc to intersect with a second cross STREET that runs in a different direction from the initial cross STREET (aka "crescent street")
  • A COLLECTOR STREET within a neighborhood that runs roughly perpendicularly from an ARTERIAL STREET, then turns multiple times or in a single arc to return to the initial cross ARTERIAL STREET creating a second intersection, or a COLLECTOR STREET that runs roughly perpendicularly from an ARTERIAL STREET, then turns direction one or multiple times or via a single arc to intersect with a second ARTERIAL STREET that runs in a different direction from the initial cross STREET
LOT:  A defined piece of property within a larger SUBDIVISION of land typically identified by an assigned number and/or letter, accessed by a STREET or HIGHWAY, and upon which is intended to be built or placed a building or multiple buildings.

  Buildings on a TRACT of land or within a given area that generally contain one or more of the following characteristics:
  • Are spaced apart, such that PEDESTRIAN travel is discouraged
  • Are of a size significantly smaller than their LOT size
  • Are of a low number of floors, typically one or two stories, and usually no more than three stories
  •  Are segregated by different LAND USES that are located apart at such distances that the automobile is the only viable means of access. 
LOW-RISE DEVELOPMENT:  A building or group of buildings with a low number of floors, typically one or two stories, and usually no more than three stories.

A landscaped area, typically rectangular and/or linear in shape, that runs uninterrupted or that is composed of a series of landscaped spaces across several BLOCKS, and that is lined with buildings that open onto the mall on each side.  A mall can be either privately or publicly owned.

  A large-scale shopping COMPLEX of the Post World War II Era characterized by groups of RETAIL stores that are oriented toward and accessed by a defined linear or rectangular common space that is either open-air and landscaped or fully-enclosed, and that is composed of one or multiple wings with each wing being anchored at one or both ends by large-scale department stores or specialized retailers.

  A graphic representation of a geographical area that is drawn to a specific scale representing actual distances.

  A physical division within a ROADWAY between traffic that typically flows in opposite directions.

  A group of buildings dedicated to health care SERVICES.

  An extremely large low-rise building of the Post World War II Era designed to house all spaces and facilities that would typically be found within multiple buildings.  Megabuildings can be found in use by institutions such as a college or university in lieu of a traditional campus, by corporations for their headquarters, operations and/or research facilities, or for large-scale complex manufacturing, with all such spaces and facilities being accessed from common corridors.  Enclosed shopping malls, convention centers, and medical centers can also be encompassed within this category due to their scale and complexity of uses.

A large geographic area typically defined by one COUNTY or multiple adjacent COUNTIES, that encompasses the continuous BUILT ENVIRONMENT of a primary CITY or adjacent primary CITIES, their SUBURBS, RURAL SUBDIVISIONS and surrounding VILLAGES and TOWNS along with the surrounding AGRICULTURAL and RURAL areas that are immediately adjacent to or between the COMMUNITIES that are within the Metropolitan Area boundaries, and that encompasses the area of primary ECONOMIC INFLUENCE of the primary CITY or CITIES and associated SUBURBS.

  A large geographic area that encompasses the continuous and mostly uninterrupted BUILT ENVIRONMENTS of multiple adjacent METROPOLITAN AREAS (aka "megalopolis").

  A building or group of buildings with a moderate number of floors, typically four to seven stories (seven stories being the typical maximum height that can be reached by fire rescue ladders, and the typical maximum height that hydraulic elevators can service).

Relating to the time period spanning the end of the 20th Century and the beginning of the 21st Century, generally encompassing the decade of the 1990's and the first decade of the 21st Century (the 00's or "aughts").

  Buildings on a TRACT of land or within a given area that contain a variety of densities.

A TRACT of land and/or a building that is planned for or houses multiple and varying uses.

A property or area which contains buildings of sizes and densities larger and denser than LOW DENSITY DEVELOPMENTS, but smaller and less dense than HIGH DENSITY DEVELOPMENT.  Such a DEVELOPMENT might contain a significant amount of MID-RISE DEVELOPMENT mixed with closely-spaced low-rise housing such as townhouses or apartment buildings.

MODERN SUBURBANIZATION:  The SUBDIVISIONS and SUBURBAN TOWNS built after World War II within and around PRE-WAR TOWNS or CITIES or within the associated COUNTY or surrounding COUNTIES, typically with SUBURBAN POST-WAR DEVELOPMENT patterns and predominantly located along HIGHWAYS and major roads.

Categories: uncategorized


Cities, towns and geography have been a fascinating subject for me, and have been a large part of my life since childhood.  I recall one of my first intrigues with maps coming from a geography textbook in elementary school.  In the textbook was a colorful map of a small town in Ohio (I think it was Mt. Victory).  This particular map showed the individual buildings of the small town as dark boxes and forms against what I recall to be a yellow base that defined the limits of the town, with the simple grid street pattern of the town at the intersection of the highways stretching outward.  I recall looking at this diagram often, dreaming about what this particular town was like.

Mount Victory
Mt. Victory, Ohio (Image from US Geological Survey 7.5' Quadrangle, Mount Victory, Ohio, US Topo, 2010)

Also during my childhood I came across a map my parents had of my own hometown, Pampa, Texas.  From this I learned how the street patterns on the map related to the actual town, and I became mesmerized with the street patterns, how some streets were continuous while others were offset, how the grids of the central city  aligned with the Santa Fe rail line that ran diagonally across the prairie, while the neighborhoods around the central area had streets that aligned with the cardinal points.

Pampa Streets
Pampa, Texas (Image Copyright Geosthetics 2011)

From this I started looking at other maps, including the Rand McNally road atlas and the H.M. Gousha Texas and Oklahoma state maps that were lying around the house.  My family also had a World Book Encyclopedia  set, which was filled not only with maps, but information and pictures of geography and cities.  I would constantly study and dream about the numerous towns and cities, how they related to each other, how they were tied together by railroads and highways, and the implied geography shown on the maps.  I would take an atlas or map with me when my family traveled to different towns and states, and mentally trace the routes we took.

I eventually came across maps of larger towns and cities.  My first large city map was of Houston, Texas that my father had kept from a business trip he took in 1969.  This map was mesmerizing, given the size of Houston and the complexity of the street and freeway patterns.  From this map I discerned beauty and grace of the freeway routes, how freeway interchanges worked, and the street pattern changes that occurred as one got further away from the central city area.  This map also had a detailed guide to the downtown area, with the numerous civic and office buildings keyed to a legend listing what each building was.  From this I would try to find pictures of the Houston skyline, and try to determine which buildings were which.  This eventually led to my interest in skyscrapers and architecture in general, which would become my profession for over 25 years.

I also came across maps of nearby towns and cities, such as Amarillo, Borger, Dumas, Lubbock and other towns in the Texas Panhandle and South Plains region, and began collecting maps of other towns and cities in other areas and states as we travelled, including Dallas and Fort Worth in Texas, Oklahoma City and Tulsa in Oklahoma, and Santa Fe in New Mexico.  I began to notice the intriguing variety of forms and street patterns, and how different towns and cities had different characteristics to their street patterning, how they grew directionally, and the impact on form that transportation such as railroads, airports and freeways had on each city's form.  I also began to take note of geographical differences that impacted the form and street patterning.  I became obsessed with collecting maps of cities and states, as well as specialty maps of national parks, railroads, or insert maps from National Geographic, eventually collecting around a thousand individual maps.

My first summer home from college, I took a job at a surveying and civil engineering firm, which introduced me to legal subdivision plats, topographic surveys, and the intricacies of utilities and their impact on cities.  I continued this work with a similar firm in Lubbock, Texas, where I went to school, and eventually was asked to join a land planning firm, which I worked at throughout the balance of my college education, becoming familiar with zoning and other municipal requirements that impacted how land was subdivided, platted, and developed.

During my architectural studies at Texas Tech University, my interest in cities, their forms, history, and development continued, and I took advantage of the numerous urban design and related social, history and economic courses, and read a lot of books on the topic.

Lubbock Streets ca 2000
Lubbock, Texas (Image Copyright Geosthetics 2011)

After graduation, I moved to Chicago, Illinois, living in the glorious lakefront neighborhoods, and working as an architect with several firms on mostly urban, and some suburban, projects that included new buildings and the renovation/restoration of historic structures, custom single family homes and large condominium high rises, as well as banks, hotels, collegiate buildings, and urban public spaces.  Through this experience, I began to understand the nuances and benefits of different types of buildings, the impact of their relationship to the street and surroundings, the benefits of densities and the positive urbanity that they can bring to a neighborhood, the benefit of pedestrian-filled streets and the dynamics of contiguous street frontage filled with shops, restaurants and businesses that feed off of each other, creating a glorious experience that cannot be found in our typical suburbia.

Chicago Lakefront
Chicago's Lakefront (Compilation image from US Geological Survey 7.5' Quadrangles, Chicago Loop, Illinois 1999, Englewood, Illinois 1997, and Jackson Park, Illinois 1998)

This urban nuance has been reinforced with travel to numerous other cities and towns across this country, where I have been able to experience the great variety of our built environments and the subtle differences in character and spirit that gives this nation its great dynamic.

All of this experience has reinforced my intrigue with towns and cities, the forms they take, the geography that defines them, and the people and history that have built them.  This intrigue is the driving force behind Geosthetics, which I am creating to celebrate the beauty of the built and natural form.

Please enjoy my musings, the imagery I have collected, and the imagery I have created to celebrate this interest.  Also, I invite you to share your thoughts, your interest, your knowledge, and your personal stories and reminiscences about particular places, whether it be your hometown, where you went to school, where you vacationed, where you want to go, and where you live now, so that we can create together a repository of interest for the built and natural environments that we live in and enjoy.

Categories: uncategorized


The towns and cities of the United States have a wondrous dynamic of city form.  Though most people might think that American towns and cities of similar size are relatively similar in form, the actuality of American city form is that of varied, dynamic, and ever changing patterns.  American society has always been one of growth, change, and a drive towards a better life, and these dynamics have been reflected in our towns and cities.  Additionally, like American history itself, there have been numerous historical influences on American city form that have impacted different regions of the United States in specific ways.  Such influences have included the regional impacts of the Dutch along the Hudson River, the British in the northeast and along the east coast, the French in the Great Lakes, along the Mississippi River, and especially in Louisiana, and the Spanish in parts of Florida, Texas, the Southwest, and California.

The dynamics of social settlement, the methods of land subdivision and surveying, and technological advancements in transportation and trade have probably had the most profound impacts on American town and city form, as these have been part and parcel to the great American economic engine that has built the wealthiest nation in history.  These changes can be traced across the nation in the various city form typologies that were used to create new towns as the country was founded and then as settlers pushed ever westward.   America's great opportunities and wealth have allowed for this dynamic of city form that has expressed the dreams and desires of those who settled new lands, and those who have pushed for the growth and continued development of their communities.

Each of our towns and cities, though made up of similar components such as houses, buildings, blocks, streets, highways, residential neighborhoods, commercial areas, industrial districts, etc., is the unique gathering of these components influenced by geography, local area history and land patterns, regional transportation networks, economics, politics, and the cumulative decisions of individuals and groups over time.  Just as the basic elements of the stars, planets, and galaxies create the unique, mesmerizing and endlessly varied features of the heavens, so are our towns and cities a mesmerizing collection of varied, beautiful and interesting forms.  This accumulation of form creates a unique identity, or "fingerprint", for each town and city, and this identity and how it developed are the primary focus of this blog.


The Pueblos
The oldest extant communities in the United States are not European settlements, but are instead the Native American pueblos of the Southwest, located primarily in New Mexico along with a few additional settlements in Arizona and extreme western Texas.  The historic pueblo form consists of simple adobe or stone living structures and associated food storage and ceremonial structures, often multiple stories and built adjacent to one another, loosely organized in groups of non-uniform blocks and often surrounding an open common area.  These settlements were then surrounded by loosely subdivided farm fields that supported the communities.  Though the tribes that lived in the pueblos likely maintained some element of trading, they did not have a commercial economic structure as found in modern American society.  The pueblo forms remained simple, without commercial buildings or districts as are found in American towns and cities.

Probably the best examples of these historic pueblo forms are found at Taos Pueblo and at Acoma in New Mexico, shown in the images below.  Acoma is also known as "Sky City" for being built atop a 300-foot high mesa to guard against potential invaders.

Taos Pueblo SurroundsTaos PuebloAcoma Pueblo Close

(left) Farmlands Surrounding Taos Pueblo, New Mexico (Image from US Geological Survey 7.5' Quadrangle, Taos, New Mexico, US Topo, 2011)
(top right) Taos Pueblo, New Mexico (Image from US Geological Survey 7.5' Quadrangle, Taos, New Mexico, US Topo, 2011)
(bottom right) Acoma Pueblo, New Mexico (Image from US Geological Survey 7.5' Quadrangle, Acoma Pueblo, New Mexico, US Topo, 2010, shading added by me)

In the post World War II era, many of the inhabitants of these communities began to move to more typical American-style housing nearby.  In a visit to Acoma several years ago, the Native American guide mentioned that typically only the older generations tended to remain in the pueblos.  As many of these historic pueblos are recognized as state, national, or World Heritage sites, their forms should remain into the future, even if the population no longer occupies them.

The Spanish
The Spanish influence is the oldest European influence on the continental United States.  The Spanish began exploration of Florida in the early 16th Century, and established settlements and missions in Florida and into Georgia and the Carolinas into the 17th Century.  Missions and settlements were also established in New Mexico starting at the end of the 16th Century, Arizona and Texas in the 17th Century, and California in the 18th Century.

The earliest European settlement in the continental United States that remains today is St. Augustine, Florida, which was founded in 1565 on an inlet just off of the east coast of Florida.

The Spanish have had an interesting influence on American town and city form, as well as regional land planning and land form.  The Spanish settlement of the New World was influenced by the Spanish Law of the Indies, which were legal rules that applied to all aspects of colonial life.  For new colonial towns, the Law required the establishment of a central open space, commonly referred to as a Plaza, which became the center of public life as well as a pasture for cattle owned by locals.  The Plaza became the location around which businesses would locate, and was often the location for government buildings and the Catholic Church, which dominated both government and social life in the colonies.

In the United States, the Spanish town form typically consists of a central rectangular plaza with the long axis generally oriented east-west.  The streets in the town would be laid out in a series of mostly rectangular blocks around the plaza.  However, surveying was not consistent, and the streets and blocks often vary in size, proportion, and orientation, which gives an interesting dynamic to this simple form.

Saint Augustine Streets
St. Augustine, Florida.  The original plaza is shown in yellow. (Image from US Geological Survey 7.5' Quadrangle, Saint Augustine, Florida, Digital Map Beta, 2009, shading added by me)

Santa Fe Streets
Santa Fe, New Mexico (Image from US Geological Survey 7.5' Quadrangle, Santa Fe, New Mexico, US Topo, 2011)

San Antonio
San Antonio, Texas. The original plaza is outlined in yellow, and the plaza today is shown in solid yellow. (Image from US Geological Survey 7.5' Quadrangle, San Antonio East, Texas, US Topo, 2010, shading added by me)

Socorro, New Mexico (Image from US Geological Survey 7.5' Quadrangle, Socorro, New Mexico, US Topo, 2010)

In addition to the colonial towns, the Spanish also influenced regional land patterns.  The Spanish created large parcels for ranches, called ranchos, throughout southern California, and these parcels were later subdivided into other parcels for agriculture and later subdivisions for housing and commercial development.  The boundaries for these ranchos varied in direction and orientation, and often meandered in interesting ways.  Many of the boundaries for these ranchos can still be traced through today's land patterns.

Los Angeles Area Ranchos
The Spanish Ranchos in Los Angeles County, California (from

Orange County Ranchos
The Spanish Ranchos and later land subdivisions, Orange County, California (from The Old Spanish and Mexican Ranchos of Orange County, 1955, Title Insurance & Trust Co. of Los Angeles)

In New Mexico and Texas, the Spanish often subdivided lands along rivers for farmland.  This subdivision often consisted of long, mostly rectangular plots leading away from the river, allowing for the greatest number of farm parcels to have access to water.  These farm parcels can still be found today, and have also influenced land use patterns in towns and cities that have grown into these areas.

Spanish River Land Form in Texas
Spanish influenced land patterns along the San Antonio River, Bexar and Wilson Counties in Texas. (Image from US Geological Survey 7.5' Quadrangle, Saspamco, Texas, US Topo, 2010)

Other Spanish influences have included non-English land measurements, such as the use of leagues for length and areas, which can still be found for land parcels in Texas, New Mexico and Colorado.

The French
The French controlled large areas of North America prior to the dominance of the British and the establishment of the United States.  The primary influence on American towns and cities included the establishment of the important cities of New Orleans, St. Louis, and Detroit, along with other towns along the Mississippi River and its navigable tributaries, and other settlements in Michigan, Wisconsin, and the St. Lawrence/Great Lakes region of the Midwest and Northeast.  Additionally, the regional riverside land patterns of the lower Mississippi River region of Louisiana, along with similar isolated waterside areas in Michigan and Wisconsin, are the other lasting legacy of the French in America.  Like the Spaniards in Texas and New Mexico, the French subdivided farm parcels along rivers into long, narrow strips of land that radiated outward from the river.  In Louisiana, the rivers generally flowed in back-and-forth, looping patterns, which resulted in a dynamic series of fan-shaped patterns along the rivers.  As towns and cities grew into these parcels, their development forms followed these patterns, creating a colorful array of narrow strips and radiating patterns of blocks, most notable in New Orleans.

Louisiana Land Form
French influenced land pattern along the Mississippi River at Donaldsonville, Louisiana. (Compilation image from US Geological Survey 7.5' Quadrangles, Belle Rose, Carville, Donaldson, and Gonzales, Louisiana, Digital Map Beta, 2009)

New Orleans
New Orleans, Louisiana. The original town site, the French Quarter, is highlighted in yellow. (Image from US Geological Survey 7.5' Quadrangle, New Orleans East, Louisiana, Digital Map Beta, 2009, shading added by me)

The Dutch
The Dutch controlled the Hudson River valley and significant land areas of upper Delaware, far eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and western Connecticut through the mid-17th century.  The primary influence on American cities was the establishment of New Amsterdam (present New York City), Fort Orange (present day Albany, New York), along with numerous cities and towns along the Hudson River.  The present fan-pattern streets of lower Manhattan's Financial District can be traced to New Amsterdam, as can the loose street pattern of downtown Albany.

Lower Manhattan
The Dutch influenced street patterns of Lower Manhattan. (Image Copyright Geosthetics 2011)

Albany, New York (Compilation image from US Geological Survey 7.5' Quadrangles, Albany and South Troy, New York, US Topo, 2010)

The British
The British had the largest colonial influence on American towns, cities, and land development form, as Britain established the original 13 colonies that eventually became the Unites States of America.  This influence dominated the primary cities of the east coast, such as Boston with its dynamic street patterns; Charleston, South Carolina, with its quaintness and beauty; and the city planning milestones of Williamsburg, Virginia; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Savannah, Georgia.

Boston 1775
Boston, Massachusetts in 1775 (Sir Thomas Hyde Page, 1777, Library of Congress, retouched by Durova, image from Wikimedia Commons)

Charleston 1733
Original Charleston, South Carolina in 1733 (Herman Moll, 1733, Library of Congress, image from Wikimedia Commons)

Charleston SC 1898
Charleston, South Carolina in 1898 (George F. Cram, 1898, from Historical Maps of Alabama Collection, University of Alabama Department of Geography, image from Wikimedia Commons)

Frenchman's Map of Williamsburg, Virginia in 1781 (from A.D. White Architectural Photographs, Cornell University Library, shading added by me).

Philadelphia Center City Blocks
Central Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, whose primary street grid, central square, and four neighborhood squares are based upon William Penn's original 1682 plan.  (Image Copyright Geosthetics 2011)

General James Oglethorpe's plan for Savannah, Georgia, 1770 (image from Wikimedia Commons, shading added by me)

The Americans
Once the United States obtained its independence and establish itself as a viable nation and military power, it began to focus on expansion and settlement of the lands west of the Appalachians.  This push westward, spurred by technological advancements in transportation such as the development of canals and railroads, allowed for an unprecedented founding of new communities, some by happenstance, many planned by those with a desire to profit from the growing settlement of new areas.  In order to spur this development in an orderly manner, the nation adopted a national method of land surveying, known as the Public Land Survey System.  This system basically drew a consistent grid across most of the nation west of the Eastern Seaboard states as well as west of Kentucky and Tennessee (this grid is also sometimes referred to as the Jeffersonian Grid, named for Thomas Jefferson, who spearheaded the development of the Public Land Survey System).  This grid is based upon 6-mile-square townships, each township divided into 36 1-mile-square sections.  This survey system is arguably the largest influence on land use form in the nation, if not the world.  This system allowed for the efficient sale and settlement of public lands, and helped spur the settlement of vast lands across the continent.  The influence on American towns and cities is significant, as new towns were placed within this system and expanding towns dealt with this previously-established land subdivision.

Area of the Public Land Survey System (PLSS) (image from US Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, Interior Geological Survey, 1988, from Wikimedia Commons)

PLSS Township Range System
Township Components of the PLSS (image by, from Wikimedia Commons)

The large number of new communities established during this expansion allowed for a wide array of plan types, the most typical being a town laid out in a uniform grid pattern.  However, numerous towns were laid out in other interesting ways, including the use of pre-planned public spaces, formal patterns, and eclectic layouts based upon the vision of the founder(s).  These forms will be further explored in the upcoming Typologies section of the Blog, and with the individual cities that will be explored in both the Blog and in the GeoPlaces section.

Categories: uncategorized