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The Streets of Rome
Planners from the Renaissance to Burnham’s time greatly admired Roman city planning In the Plan of Chicago, Burnham and Bennett wrote admiringly of the Imperial city for its public spaces, greenery, and monumental architecture. Roman city planning was also an important early model for the circulation of traffic and commerce both in and outside of the city. One of the most distinctive features of Roman urban planning was its orderly grid of streets constructed in major provincial towns throughout the empire, many of these grids were based on the layout of the military camps (castra) that preceded them. These plans imposed order and uniformity on the landscape and allowed for easy distribution of urban land to Roman colonists. They also facilitated the flow of traffic into and throughout the city. The two most important streets in the typical Roman provincial town were the wide cardo (running north to south) and the decumanus (running east to west). Most often, these intersected at the site of a central forum, where much of the town’s public business and commerce was conducted. Main streets often also extended the grid beyond the protective walls of the city and communicated with the Roman imperial transportation network and postal system. In most former Roman cities the grid was so transformed by intervening history that vestiges are only recognizable to the trained observer. But the legacy of the widespread application of the grid to town and countryside was felt throughout the lands of the former empire. The grid system was much idealized by Renaissance town planners, and it exerted a long-lasting influence on the imagination and organization of urban movement in Europe and (eventually) America.
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