Boston squared

Boston Squared

Geometry riddle: When is a square not a square?
Answer: When it’s in New England.

Above (click for greater bigness) with the stupid title is a series of minimal street maps I traced to show the varied actual shapes of a selection of so-called “squares” in the central Boston area. Urban spaces come in all shapes, as you can discover with this nifty tool, and a city square in any part of the world is by no means guaranteed to be a literal square, but New England’s style of square is peculiar (at least in this country) in its especially confused geometry. Unlike many places where a square is most often defined by a public open space or civic structure, here a square is typically defined by an intersection of two or more—usually closer to 4 gazillion—thoroughfares and/or other streets. The square’s name further applies to a business district around that intersection, and sometimes to an entire neighborhood. Thus the squares strongly define much of the local geography and organization of Boston and its close surroundings, as you can see in the diagrammatic Unmapped Boston poster. They are many things, but rarely are they square. You’ll also find some Circles and Corners around town, but they tend to be a bit more true to their names.

Any locals out there can probably find fault with my selection here or with the extent of the individual square maps, but I’ve tried to capture the central intersections of many of the major players. The collection can always grow! Entertain yourself by trying to identify each square before consulting the list under the title. (Squares from Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, and Brookline are included.)

To everyone else: Sorry, I know you don’t care. But this city is just so mappable! (And in a way, undermapped.) You should come visit.

Previously: Squares can also be difficult to drive through, and they make good logos.

Edit: don’t hate me for this, but I’m in experimental stages of posting junk like this for sale at Zazzle, just in case anybody takes pride enough in their squares to put this on a t-shirt or poster. Something more professional and less desperate-looking will occur over time!

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  1. I’m gonna buy a poster. You should order a bunch and hawk them in someo f the squares!

    18 June 2010 @ 11:29am

  2. And let’s not forget Mr. Davis!

    Adam Gaffin
    18 June 2010 @ 11:49am

  3. Yes indeed! My love for Mr. Davis is on record on this site.

    Matt (or anybody), if you do buy that poster, let me know if it turns out like crap. I’ve never done this sort of thing before nor have I gotten a print myself, so if I’ve chosen some options poorly or something, I’ll want to be sure to fix it (and make amends as necessary).

    Andy Woodruff
    18 June 2010 @ 11:56am

  4. you should sell posters/tshirts at Ward Maps (Mass Ave between Harvard and Porter squares):

    21 June 2010 @ 3:36pm

  5. The Reason the BU Bridge gets so little love on that map is because the eastern walkway has been either partly or completely closed for probably a year at least.

    25 June 2010 @ 12:56am

  6. Woops wrong post

    25 June 2010 @ 12:56am

  7. Boston & environs is just crawling with squares. Every other corner is a square. Here is a poem from back in the day:

    Hawking the Phoenix on Donald Cox Rogers Square.
    Bet you don’t know where that is!

    Michael Shapiro
    7 July 2010 @ 9:28am

  8. I live in Oak Square and love seeing the map of it. After so many years, you just get used to it but I can’t image what it would be like to look at that on a map and try to figure out where they hell you’re suppose to go.

    5 May 2011 @ 3:22pm

  9. Oh, thanks! I’m not used to this BLOG thing… when I looked at this page last year, I forgot to thank you for BLOGGing me… and now I see all this other interesting stuff. And I do like your poster, too.

    Max Harless
    1 June 2011 @ 1:02pm

  10. Hi, I am putting together a zine and website comprised of Boston-esque images and text in response to the events of last week. A friend just sent me this image, and I was wondering if I would be able to include it on the website, obviously giving full credit to you via a picture-click-link. I think it’s an awesome piece and definitely touches the heart of Boston — or if you have any newer pieces you’d be willing to submit that would be great too (peeked at the 9/11 map – as an artist who does a lot of mapping I’m finding your work inspiring!)
    – alexi

    23 April 2013 @ 10:42pm