Urban Form Figure-Ground Diagrams

I previously demonstrated how to create figure-ground square-mile visualizations of urban street networks with OSMnx to consistently compare city patterns, design paradigms, and connectivity. OSMnx downloads, analyzes, and visualizes street networks from OpenStreetMap but it can also get building footprints. If we mash-up these building footprints with the street networks, we get a fascinating comparative window into urban form:

Figure-ground map of building footprints and street network in New York, San Francisco, Monrovia, and Port au Prince from OpenStreetMap data, created in Python with OSMnx

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Square-Mile Street Network Visualization

The heart of Allan Jacobs’ classic book on street-level urban form and design, Great Streets, features dozens of hand-drawn figure-ground diagrams in the style of Nolli maps. Each depicts one square mile of a city’s street network. Drawing these cities at the same scale provides a revealing spatial objectivity in visually comparing their street networks and urban forms.

We can recreate these visualizations automatically with Python and the OSMnx package, which I developed as part of my dissertation. With OSMnx we can download a street network from OpenStreetMap for anywhere in the world in just one line of code. Here are the square-mile diagrams of Portland, San Francisco, Irvine, and Rome created and plotted automatically by OSMnx:

OSMnx: Figure-ground diagrams of one square mile of Portland, San Francisco, Irvine, and Rome shows the street network, urban form, and urban design in these cities

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