Where the US Streets Have No Names

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Does your street have a unique name, or do you constantly have to redirect your friends and family around your confusing neighborhood? Do you have a hard time navigating new cities, or do you find them to be fairly straightforward?

In a world of smartphones, paper maps have almost gone the way of the dodo. While satellites may have taken over some of the information our brains used to have to handle, they aren’t always perfect. However, there is another way to make navigation easier to deal with whether you are using your own directional skills or your phone’s.

Numerical numbering systems, or numbering streets in specific orders, is one way some cities have taking the pain out of navigation. A comprehensive analysis of streets in the US found that half of the cities here prefer to have their streets numbered rather than named.

Cities like New York have long used the numerical system to create an easy to follow grid pattern. New York introduced the system in 1811, and many other American towns have followed suit.  Two other cities pioneered the use of the numerical system in the United States: Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. These three cities may have been the original inspiration for the other half of American cities that also chose to number their streets rather than name them.

Numbering streets may not be as much fun, but it certainly helps keep people going where they need (and want) to go. The number system set a precedent so that anyone, no matter where they were from, could show up in a city and figure out what direction they were supposed to be going based on the numbers around them. Even if you’re not a math person, this system seems like a pretty good way to go- especially if you find yourself a bit lost!

The researchers also found that the greater a city’s population, the more likely they were to use some sort of numerical grid system. This allows cities to continue growing without abandoning the logic of the grid system they have been using since their city was created.

More:

Rose-Redwood, R., & Kadonaga, L. (2016). “The Corner of Avenue A and Twenty-Third Street”: Geographies of Street Numbering in the United States. The Professional Geographer68(1), 39-52.

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