Monday, March 13, 2017

The Grid Part I: The Survey of Michigan

We are living in a 200-year-old matrix marked by brass and iron. It is such an integral part of our daily lives that we barely even notice it. This complex system hides in plain sight--in fact, it is visible from outer space.

Shane Kimbrough

It's no accident that Metro Detroit--a region historically apathetic to organized urban planning--ended up with a neat grid of roads set one mile apart. But there is a deeper order and complexity to the system beyond a convenient grid. Its origins lie deep in the early history of the United States, and is one of the boldest utopian social engineering experiments ever proposed by its founders.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

10,000 Acre Tract

One noticeable feature on some old Detroit maps is the slightly tilted, fourteen-square-mile rectangle that lies three miles northwest of the original city core. This is the Ten Thousand Acre Tract, an area that now includes parts of Detroit, Hamtramck, and Highland Park.

David Rumsey Map Collection
Detail from map of Michigan Territory by John Farmer, 1836

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Park Lots

A strangely common frustration for drivers in Detroit, especially those who are not yet familiar with the city, is that crossing Woodward Avenue is not always a straightforward task. A driver on Ferry Street, for example, will learn that one must zig-zag over Woodward in order to continue driving on that thoroughfare. And one traveling east on Temple Street will find out that the road ends abruptly at Woodward. The origins of all this chaos can be found 200 years in the past, in the layout of parcels of land commonly referred to as the Park Lots.

Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs

Monday, December 19, 2016

Radial Avenues Part VI: Fort Street

Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library

The last of Detroit's radial avenues to be established was Fort Street. In addition to being the youngest and shortest of the radials, it is also the only one never to have served as a US military highway.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Radial Avenues Part V: Grand River

Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library

Grand River Avenue, the fifth radial avenue to be extended from Detroit, was built to connect the city to the point where the Grand River flows into Lake Michigan. Like Gratiot Avenue, this road roughly follows the same angle as some of the avenues in Augustus Woodward's Plan of Detroit, but it was not actually built where any main avenue was planned.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Radial Avenues Part IV: Gratiot

Like Woodward, West Jefferson, and Michigan Avenues, Gratiot Avenue was established in the early 19th century as a military road. But unlike previous radial avenues, it wasn't an extension of a radial avenue on the Woodward Plan, and it did not coincide with an Indian trail.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Radial Avenues Part III: Michigan Ave.

Michigan Avenue was planned as a 263-mile highway connecting Fort Detroit with Fort Dearborn in Chicago, effectively creating a land route between Lake Erie and Lake Michigan. It begins at Detroit's Point of Origin at the center of the city, heads due west for five miles, then falls gently southwest across Michigan's lower peninsula before crossing into northern Indiana and terminating at the City of Chicago. Historically it has been known as the Chicago Road or Chicago Turnpike outside of the Detroit city limits, and today it is known as United States Highway 12. Like Jefferson and Woodward Avenues, its origins are rooted in Augustus B. Woodward's Plan of Detroit, early US Military highways, and centuries-old Native American footpaths.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Radial Avenues Part II: Woodward

Woodward Avenue was born with the passage of "An act concerning highways and roads" on September 18, 1805. Along with Jefferson Avenue, it was the first road created by Michigan's territorial government following the great Detroit fire of June 11, 1805. Although the Woodward Plan could not yet be made law, its main principles had been worked out by this time and these two roads were established in anticipation of it.