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The American City, Part 1: A Brief History of the Regular Grid
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The American City, Part 1: A Brief History of the Regular Grid

The American City, Part 1: A Brief History of the Regular Grid

48 min
Credit: AICP CM

This course is approved for .75 AICP CM credit

The course is about the when, where, and why of regular grid planning around the world—from Ancient India to the New World—arguing that its independent emergence in different parts of the world is a generic consequence of placing dwellings in a settlement. The transmission of the regular grid, traceable from one society to another over the last 4,500 years, also demonstrates its effectiveness as a utilitarian tool of planning. The course concludes by reviewing the myths surrounding the regular grid, including its role in fostering the ideals of the American Dream.

The objective of this course is to understand how and why the regular grid has been a standard part of the town planning vocabulary around the world for nearly five millennia.

In This Course

  1. Mark David Major introduces the course.
  2. The Ancient World
    This chapter explains the first emergence of regular grid planning in Ancient India and also, perhaps, Egypt, before describing its transmission as a utilitarian tool of planning to the Mediterranean Basin in Greece and Italy.
  3. Medieval/Renaissance Europe
    This chapter explains the decline in use of regular grid planning during the Medieval Period and its widespread re-emergence during the European Renaissance.
  4. The Far East and Pre-Columbian America
    This chapter explains arguments for a separate tradition of regular grid planning arising in the Far East and Pre-Columbian America. The former is possible but unlikely, whereas the latter appears likely.
  5. The Bastide in the New World
    This chapter explains the bastide plan (i.e., a fortified town with a regular grid layout) based on Medieval planted towns and Alberti/Spanish model derived from Vitruvius. The bastide was the dominant pattern adopted during colonization of the New World and westward expansion in the United States.
  6. Spanish Laws of the Indies and the American Midwest
    This chapter explains the dominant model for town founding activity in the United States during the 18th and 19th centuries, found in the plan model prescribed in the Spanish Laws of the Indies (derived from Alberti).
  7. Colonial America and Thomas Jefferson's 1785 Land Ordinance
    This chapter explains how Americans' preference for regularity in town planning arose from colonization during the Age of Enlightenment, which continued unabated until the post-war period. The adoption of Thomas Jefferson's 1785 Land Ordinance for the economic division of land only intensified this preference, especially in land speculation activities.
  8. The Problem of Words
    Words for cities are often based on some description of their physical form. In fact, we've been talking and writing about cities almost as long as we've been building them.
  9. Why the Regular Grid?
    This chapter explains why urban historians and theorists commonly cite the adaptive and efficient qualities of the regular grid as the reason for its widespread use around the world, especially in colonization activities.
  10. Generic Function in Settlements
    This chapter explains the relevance of generic function (water, shelter, movement, defense, trade) in the founding of early Colonial settlements.
  11. The Myth of the Regular Grid
    As defense became less important, the economic potential of the regular grid in land speculation came to the forefront in the United States. This chapter explains how the idea arose that the regular grid fosters a type of egalitarian space, because all lots, streets and blocks bear some characteristic of "sameness." It is a myth, albeit an exceptionally powerful one.

Published 2016