I was in Chicago late last week and once again, was struck by the strange combination that is the morphology of the city.
The relentless grid of streets and the flat Midwest prairie accentuates the canyon-like space of the streets in the Loop. In all four directions you can usually see the sky all the way down to the street, with maybe only the interruption of the L tracks. In fact, in many places you can see the L in all four directions and a small square of liminal sky below, materializing the elevated belt that is the Loop.
The grid of streets eventually gives way to a grid of farm fields as you head west. Each field gets larger and larger, the grid more dispersed as you leave the Midwest prairie and begin into the dryer West, as Wallace Stegner defined it, the 100th meridian, where precipitation drops below 14 inches per year. The grid then is so dispersed as to be only lines, of roads leading to towns and other towns, irrigation circles cropping up like lily pads.
Section, quarters and quarter-sections until you hit the Rocky Mountains, where farming gave way to mining and the strange overlapping rectangles of mining claims parcels out the land.
This a zoning and parcel map of Boulder County, immediately west of Boulder. The long, rectangular plats are mining claims, 150′ by 1500′ each.
From Chicago’s grid of evenly divided flat land for development to the Rocky Mountain west of speculative gold and silver extraction – maybe that is why the wild west was ‘wild’, for the conflict inherent in all of those overlapping claims is a far cry from the orderly, if not boring, gridded parcels of Midwestern real estate.