The Law and Economics of Street Layouts: How a Grid Pattern Benefits a Downtown

62 Pages Posted: 26 Sep 2012 Last revised: 17 Oct 2012

Date Written: September 26, 2012


People congregate in cities to improve their prospects for social and economic interactions. As Jane Jacobs recognized, the layout of streets in a city’s central business district can significantly affect individuals’ ability to obtain the agglomeration benefits that they seek. The costs and benefits of alternative street designs are capitalized into the value of abutting lots. A planner of a street layout, as a rule of thumb, should seek to maximize the market value of the private lots within the layout. By this criterion, the street grid characteristic of the downtowns of most U.S. cities is largely successful. Although a grid layout has aesthetic shortcomings, it helps those who frequent a downtown to orient themselves and move about. A grid also is conducive to the creation of rectangular lots, which are ideal for siting structures and minimizing disputes between abutting landowners. Major changes in street layouts, such as those accomplished by Baron Haussmann in Paris and Robert Moses in New York City, are unusual and typically occur in bursts. Surprisingly, the aftermath of a disaster that has destroyed much of a city is not a propitious occasion for the revamping of street locations.

Keywords: streets, grid, capitalization, disaster

JEL Classification: H40, K11, R10, R40

Suggested Citation

Ellickson, Robert C., The Law and Economics of Street Layouts: How a Grid Pattern Benefits a Downtown (September 26, 2012). Alabama Law Review, Forthcoming, Yale Law & Economics Research Paper No. 459, Available at SSRN:

Robert C. Ellickson (Contact Author)

Yale Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States
203-432-7033 (Phone)

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics