Urban Planning

Floating Cities

Why don’t all cities number their streets this easy way? They don’t because it would cost a lot to make the switch but I’m guessing that many cities wish they could switch.

In Salt Lake City and most of Utah, street blocks and intersections are all named with a north or south coordinate number (in increments of 100), and an east or west coordinate (also in increments of 100). These coordinates are somewhat similar to longitude and latitude. Given that all streets are numbered this way, all addresses must then use that same numbering/naming system. So a random address might read 1722 East/700 South.

Explained in Full With Examples: In Salt Lake the entire block where the downtown Salt Lake Mormon religious temple is located is the home base, the zero center of all grid coordinates. The address of that block is zero (0) everything: zero north, zero south, zero east and zero west.

For just one example, as I travel south from that zero center, the first intersection I encounter is 100 South. Continuing in that same south direction, the subsequent intersections are 200 South, 300 South, 400 South and continuing in increments of 100 until … as many increments of 100 as we need to name all the city blocks and all the suburban streets as well. It could be 10,000 blocks or it could be infinity because the city might continue to grow. The same will occur traveling in any other direction. In an example of easterly travel from zero, I will sequentially encounter 100 East, 200 East, 300 East, again continuing potentially to infinity.

An example of how this is useful: Suppose I need to arrive at a general address called 700 South/1700 East.

I can always know the exact address of where I presently am by looking at the two street signs at any intersection. The one sign will always have a north OR south designation. The other sign will always have an east OR west designation.

If I am at that zero downtown temple block of the city (mentioned above), one of the street signs there will say ‘Zero (0) South.’ Again I need to go to 700 South.

I then should travel south exactly seven (7) blocks to arrive at 700 South. I pick any street that travels south (the closest one), travel seven (7) blocks and I then will arrive at 700 South.

Now that I am at 700 south, to then arrive at 1700 East, I must travel seventeen (17) blocks in the east direction.

People often speak of these address coordinate in approximate or general terms. When I ask where the nearest Trader Joe’s is, someone might say ‘1700 East and 700 South’ (made up – not sure what is at that address). The answer given ‘1700 East and 700 South’ is as specific as that person could be because he doesn’t know the exact street number of Trader Joe’s but I then know 1700 East/700 South will get me close.

I don’t need a compass. I can just pick any conspicuous landmark in any direction, something tall like a mountain, an antenna, or a skyscraper. If, for example, I know my landmark is in the west, I can then easily and immediately identify the south, east and north orientations. If I were in Salt Lake City my landmarks would be ‘big mountains in the east and small mountains in the west.’

From 700 South I now must travel seventeen (17) blocks in the east direction to arrive at the street named 1700 East. At this intersection, one street sign will say ‘1700 East.’ The other sign will say ‘700 South.’

Suppose that the exact street number of Trader Joe’s is 1722 East/700 South. When traveling away from the zero temple block in any direction, the even numbered buildings will always be on the right side of the street. From 1700 East/700 South I must turn east on ‘1700 East’ street, watching on my right for the building numbered 1722. The numbers always increase as we travel further from the zero center in any direction. If instead the address is ‘1750 East’ it will be very near the center of the block on the right side. If the street number might be ‘1799 East’ will be very near 1800 East on the left (odd) side of the street.

With this system you can always know exactly where you by looking at any two street signs at any intersection. From there you will know exactly which directions you must travel – and how far in each direction you must travel – to arrive at your exact address. It even helps in smaller towns.

Of Interest:

  • We can still name streets (like Market Street) as long as we also include its compass coordinate on the street sign (a sign might read ‘Market St – 300 South’).

  • In the case of a city with diagonal streets, we should still name as many grid streets as there are. There are usually many more grid streets than diagonal streets so it will still help greatly.

  • People often abbreviate coordinates. For example, if someone says ‘Seventh (7th) South’ they are intending to indicate 700 South. If someone says ‘Seventeenth (17th) East they are intending to indicate 1700 East.

[Edit] * It’s okay to juxtapose the coordinates. Saying 700 South 1722 East is the same as saying 1722 East 700 South. People will get it either way.

This article from everydaywanderer.com explains the history and reasons the system was chosen in Utah.

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