Noah Veltman

Click on a street in this delightful interactive map, and a history lesson pops up.

In Washington, D.C., there's no great mystery to the names on our street grid. With a minimum of creativity (but a kind gesture toward future tourists), the capital was long ago laid out with a simple taxonomy: North-South streets are numbered in ascending order away from the center of town; East-West streets follow the same pattern using the alphabet; and the maddening diagonals are named after states. Resulting locations are for the most part easy to find just about anywhere in town: Anyone who knows the alphabet can get to the corner of 15th and R Northwest.

There's an elegance to such a legible street-naming system. But maybe we lose out in Washington on the subtle lessons from history and culture that are embedded, say, at the intersection of Portola Drive and O'Shaughnessy Boulevard in San Francisco. Michael O'Shaughnessy? He was an important civil engineer in California history. And Portola? That would be Gaspar de Portolà, the Spanish explorer who led an expedition to San Francisco Bay in 1769.

This trivia comes from a delightful interactive map of the history behind San Francisco's street names, created by Noah Veltman (hat tip to Flowing Data for pointing us to it). Click on a street, and a history lesson pops up.

Castro Street, for instance, may not be the Castro you are thinking of:

The head shots are a nice touch. Some of our other favorites unearthed from the city's map:

We'd love to see something like this in any number of other cities (perhaps D.C. notwithstanding).

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. photo: San Diego's Trolley
    Transportation

    Out of Darkness, Light Rail!

    In an era of austere federal funding for urban public transportation, light rail seemed to make sense. Did the little trains of the 1980s pull their own weight?

  2. Solar panel installers work on the rooftops of some of Baltimore's poorest neighborhoods.
    Equity

    An Uncertain Future for Solar

    Trump slapped tariffs on imported solar panels at a time when African Americans were seeing unique job growth in the industry.

  3. photo: a couple tries out a mattress in a store.
    Equity

    What’s the Future of the ‘Sleep Economy’?

    As bed-in-a-box startup Casper files for an IPO, the buzzy mattress seller is betting that the next big thing in sleep is brick-and-mortar retail outlets.

  4. Transportation

    In Paris, a Very Progressive Agenda Is Going Mainstream

    Boosted by big sustainability wins, Mayor Anne Hidalgo is pitching bold plans to make the city center “100 percent bicycle” and turn office space into housing.

  5. A photo of a police officer in El Paso, Texas.
    Equity

    What New Research Says About Race and Police Shootings

    Two new studies have revived the long-running debate over how police respond to white criminal suspects versus African Americans.

×