In urban planning, the grid plan, also known as the grid street plan or gridiron plan, is a type of city plan in which streets run at right angles to each other, forming a walkable grid. Two inherent characteristics of the grid plan—frequent intersections and orthogonal geometry—are designed to facilitate pedestrian movement. The geometry helps with orientation and wayfinding, and frequent intersections facilitate the choice and directness of routes to desired destinations.

The grid plan dates from antiquity and originated in multiple cultures. Some of the earliest planned cities were built using grid plans in the Indian subcontinent. So, why aren’t modern suburbs built on a walkable grid? To begin answering that question, we must first examine the concepts of walkability and Complete Neighborhood.


Walkability refers to the ability to safely walk to amenities within a reasonable distance, usually defined as a walk of 30 minutes or less. According to the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute, a walkable community takes into consideration persons, not automobiles, at the center of the design scale.

For a place to call itself “walkable,” there needs to be enough within an individual’s walkshed that most trips (other than commuting) can be accomplished on foot. A walkshed is the area around a station—or any central destination—that the average person can reach on foot.

This is what the website Walk Score attempts to measure and ties back to the concept of Complete Neighborhoods—neighborhoods with safe and convenient access to the goods and services needed for daily living. This includes a variety of housing options, grocery stores and other commercial services, quality public schools, public open spaces and recreational facilities, affordable active transportation options, and civic amenities.

The Complete Neighborhood

An important element of a Complete Neighborhood is that it is built at a walkable and bikeable human scale and meets the needs of people of all ages and abilities. It has everything one would need—all within walking distance from home. For those who are fortunate enough to work from or close to home, it’s the sort of neighborhood one could go months without leaving. You’re not bound by a car, bicycle, or mass transit on a regular basis. Suburbs weren’t and still aren’t built for that.

Cities, with little exception to the rule, are Complete Neighborhoods that are street- and grid-based. They’re built for walkability. In fact, the concept of a walkable grid is a fundamental part of any urban transit-based system.

In order to measure walkability, the first question that must be answered is, “Where do you want to get to on foot?” If the answer is, “To my neighbor’s house who lives next door,” then every suburb could conceivably call itself “walkable.” But what about walking to work? Or to your favorite place to eat? By and large, you can’t do that in a suburb. Calling a place “walkable” is mostly a matter of saying you can access everything on foot. You can live, work, shop, go “out on the town,” and dine at your choice of restaurants. City/urban neighborhoods include all of that. And city living space comes in the form of apartment buildings, high-rise condominiums, and co-ops surrounded by shops, restaurants, entertainment, schools, recreation, and other amenities that are highly walkable.

The vast majority of suburban neighborhoods don’t offer that walkability. And, by virtue of their design and purpose, they simply can’t—yet.

Do you have any experience working with walkable grids or urban planning? Feel free to share your thoughts below.