The Dark Side of the Grid Revisited: Power and Urban Design

  • Jill L. GrantEmail author


In contemporary discussions of preferred urban form, many planners and designers advocate a return to the grid. Proponents of the grid see it as legible, accessible, efficient, traditional, and, perhaps, even egalitarian. This chapter examines the grid in the context of traditions which have used it as a dominant form in city building. A brief historical review shows that the grid has emerged in some societies seeking to diffuse authority among citizens, but appears most commonly in the context of centralizing or globalizing power. The author illustrates that the extraordinary symbolism of the grid as a “rational” built form imposed on landscapes can convey a range of meanings, both positive and negative.


Grid design Political authority Power Global history New Urbanism 



This chapter was originally published as: Grant, J. (2001). “The Dark Side of the Grid: Power and Urban Design.” Planning Perspectives, 16(3): 219-241. I owe a debt of gratitude to Anthony Sutcliffe, who was editor of the journal when I submitted the paper. Tony sent me materials, pointed me to sources, and pushed me to refine what began as a less ambitious offering. Thanks also to Michael E. Smith (Arizona State University) who addresses similar concerns about urban form in history from the archaeological side of the question: Mike challenged me on some details and pointed me to alternative data and interpretations that have proven illuminating. Thanks to Darrell Joudrey for preparing the original maps.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Dalhousie UniversityHalifaxCanada

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