Laura Bliss is CityLab’s West Coast bureau chief. She also writes MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Sierra, GOOD, Los Angeles, and elsewhere, including in the book The Future of Transportation.
The West’s checkerboard plan, devised by Thomas Jefferson, gets the Instagram treatment with striking satellite imagery.
The “grid”—that latticework that divvies America’s fields, forests, and towns into perfect square-mile sections—was Thomas Jefferson’s brainchild for apportioning Western territories acquired after the Revolutionary War. Yet he never had the pleasure of seeing his plan from its clearest and most mesmerizing view: from above.
But his grid lives on, and aerial and satellite photography offer new ways to see the American checkerboard. A clever Instagram account (aptly named the Jefferson Grid) presents a curated view, one square at a time. The account’s owner, an Israeli photography student, posts snapshots of square-mile demarcations almost daily. Snipped from Google Earth, the images (perusable in “grid view,” naturally) show the diversity of landscapes and land uses that conform to the plan, abstracted from whatever they’re like on the ground.
“Part of what I like about aerial photography is that it is ‘naked’ of the experiences of being at those places,” the account’s owner, who wishes to remain anonymous, tells CityLab in an email. “But it shows you what makes those places work in a certain way, exposes some of the systems and tools that have been used to create such experiences[.]"