The arrival of Google's comprehensive satellite view some years ago, and more recently Street View, has been a huge benefit for anyone with even a passing interest in urbanism. To take advantage of these amazing mapping tools, from time to time I'll use them to explore a city or town — typically one with emergent characteristics in overall plan — partly for fun, and partly to see what can be learned.
This week's location is the southern Spanish town of Aldea de Rey (literally "King's Town"), a village chosen not for its distinctiveness but for being representative of small towns of the region (and for being small enough to be shown in detail on this blog).
The town has a characteristically medieval spindle-shaped plan (p. 139) in a north-south orientation, indicating that at the time it was founded, as today, the primary flow of traffic was between the city of Ciudad Real to the north and smaller destinations to the south:
Although the road network may appear chaotic and inefficient on first glance, using Google's directions tool on the "walking" function reveals something interesting. Using the New Urbanist metric of the five-minute walk, here is pictured the distance one can cover along various routes in five minutes, starting from the square (marked with a star):
Although New Urbanist thought tends to emphasize the grid as a walkable alternative to the modern suburban pattern of arterial roads and cul de sacs, walkability is of course not an end in itself but rather a means to an end (arriving at one's destination, among other benefits). A formal grid of relatively low-density residential structures, however, as is pictured in the previous link, offers few non-residential destinations and no obvious focal point. Where centers of commerce, entertainment, etc. do exist, the grid may inhibit walking by failing to offer diagonal "shortcuts" and forcing the walker to follow a lengthier zig-zag path.
The cul-de-sac approach, for all its failings, does at least acknowledge a hierarchy of streets and therefore features locations which are more central than others. The town of Aldea de Rey offers one example of a layout that combines the connectedness of the grid with a centered focus that will attract the pedestrian volume sufficient to support retail and other businesses.