When Planners Get Bored

I’ve been collecting a bunch of oddly shaped and unusually themed neighborhoods and didn’t know what to do with them. They didn’t have any similarity amongst them, even appearing in completely different parts of the world, although I wondered if perhaps I could force them into a set anyway. The first notion that came to mind was that maybe these were examples of urban planners getting bored and playing around with some designs. That was the hope. As often happens, the more probable stories behind the instances I’d uncovered were considerably more complicated and entirely more interesting.

Catch Some Z’s

Surrey Downs, South Australa

What was the reasoning behind all of the streets beginning with Z in the Surrey Downs neighborhood in suburban Adelaide, South Australia? Zanoni, Zealand, Zed, Zoe, Zephyr, Zenith, Zuleika, and Zariba. That was impressive. Then I noticed a concentration of Y streets immediately to the northwest. Aha! An alphabet theme! Actually, no.

The pattern broke as I spotted the wines to the west. Zinfandel, Shiraz, Riesling, Tokay, Trebbiano, Malaga. Then I understood. The planners worked backwards starting with Z, then Y, then they got drunk and gave up, switching to wines instead. More likely, they named streets for the grapes that went into wines rather than the actual wines themselves. The neighborhood replaced an agricultural area that included viticulture. The old adage of suburbs named for what they destroyed apparently held true here.

And no, I never did figure out the Z thing.

Like a Bloodshot Eye

Pitman Grove, New Jersey, USA

What a great shape I thought when I spotted the bloodshot eye on a map from afar and drilled-in to take a closer look. It was like a cartographer decided to doodle absentmindedly in the margins of a page and happened to sketch an eye, or a wagon wheel or a whatchamacallit.

This seemed like a well-populated area with a high probability of Street View coverage. I zoomed in even farther and I couldn’t find anything at ground level. It took me a few breaths to figure out the reason: cars can’t use these "streets." They’re more akin to sidewalks.

More tight spaces in Pitman Grove by Will Sexton in Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license

What was going on? Who would build such an odd neighborhood without any automobile access?

The Borough of Pitman provided an explanation. I’d discovered an historical location known as Pitman Grove.

It developed from a summer camp meeting at the turn of the century. In the center of the Grove area is the Camp Meeting Auditorium… the center of Methodist worship. People came from far away for revival meetings… There are 12 “avenues”, representing the disciples of Christ, that are joined to the auditorium as spokes on the hub of a wheel. There is a spot in the tabernacle where you can stand and look down all 12 avenues. Eventually small cottages were built on these avenues and this was the origin of the town.

The page went on to explain that Pitman remains a dry town even to this day. Thus, Ptman and Surrey Downs probably wouldn’t be very good Sister City matches.

The Ultimate Alphabet Grid

Kwazakele, Ibhayi, Port Elizabeth, South Africa

Kwazakele took me aback with its intense street layout and naming convention. It was part of Ibhayi, an African township formed outside of Port Elizabeth, South Africa during the Apartheid era. I discovered remarkably little information about this township on the Intertubes in spite of a population exceeding 250 thousand residents.

This unusual road grid, I imagine, was probably imposed upon the inhabitants by Apartheid powers rather than arising as an organic contrivance of their own doing. The regimentation of three-letter streets beginning with A, and an offshoot section with B seemed entirely too bureaucratic. Most of the letter combinations lacked any meaning beyond a designation of geographic placement. Other streets, by coincidence, spelled words. People could end-up on roads such as Ant, Ape, Ale, Arf and even Any Road. Living on AOK would be, well, A-OK. Over at letter B, an address on Bad Road would be bad although not the worst choice possible.

Living on Ass Road
Ass Road, Ibhayi, South Africa
via Google Street View, September 2009

Somebody had to live on Ass Road, a most unfortunate three-letter combination. Even the guy on Street View was begging for someone to take him away.

4 Replies to “When Planners Get Bored”

    1. Izmailovo Hotel in Moscow (apparently the largest hotel in the world, which I was very surprised to find out just now) consists of five sections (okay, officially four, apparently, because the last two got combined at some point, but whatever).
      Four of them are named after Greek letters – Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta. But because the Russian alphabet goes A-B-V-G-D, the planners apparently felt they missed a V. And since there’s no Greek letter for that V (well, there is, but it’s the B one… it’s a long story), they had to come up with something that sounded similar.
      Ultimately, they named the third section Vega. As in Alpha, Beta, Vega, Gamma, Delta. I applaud to their ability to make it blend in – in original Russian, that list seems completely normal until you look carefully.

  1. As someone who works in a planning office, I must say that planning is very different across the world. I would guess that most of this is the result of developers, not planners, however.

  2. The wine/grape street names are in Wynn Vale.
    Wynns are a long established wine maker in Oz and although they now operate in the Coonawarra area (about 375 km to the south east) their first winery was located where Wynn Vale is now located.
    There were vineyards and wineries located in suburban Adelaide but as the city expanded they have moved to more rural areas,there are still some very close to the city. Great for visitors!

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