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NOLA vs. NYC: Rodent’s Eye View

Thanks to my friend Jason Neville for bringing this choice piece of research to my attention:

“We put rats in relatively large areas with objects and routes resembling those in Manhattan,” explains Prof. Eilam. The rats, he found, do the same things humans do: They establish a grid system to orient themselves. Using the grid, the rats covered a vast amount of territory, “seeing the sights” quickly. In contrast, rats in an irregular plan resembling New Orleans’ failed to move far from where they started and didn’t cover much territory, despite traveling the same distances as the “Manhattan rats.”

Source: Perfect City Weblog

Published inNew Orleans


  1. Reading the original source, it appears that there is an underlying assumption that covering vast amounts of territory and seeing the sights quickly are inherently good. Whereas enjoying your neighborhood is somehow bad.

    The scary part of this is that the authors of the study state: “We’ve built an environment to test city plans, so that ‘soul-less’ and ineffective new neighborhoods won’t be built. Using our model of rat behavior, it takes just a few minutes for city planners to test whether a new plan will work. It’s a way to avoid disasters and massive expense.”

    Hmmm. Manhattan = good. New Orleans = soul-less and ineffective neighborhoods?

    I hope the editor of the article somehow got the research conclusions backwards.

  2. Kansas City Jake Kansas City Jake

    Geoff – i couldn’t agree more…

    Who said “covering more territory” is some measure of the quality of a place. It could just mean the rats found a good bar in New Orleans, went in and had a drink!

    To add insult to injury – this is the kind of crap that passes for “research” about cities. No wonder most American’s live in soul-less suburbs planned by rats and their human collaborators who apparently have never spent much time in cities…


  3. David David

    Yes, I’ve always preferred New Orleans’ winding streets to those of a grid like Phoenix’s (uber-grid).

    Actually, though, a big portion of New Orleans is more regular than might be readily apparent. Rather than have Cartesian, rectangular coordinates, much of New Orleans is laid out like a wedge of polar coordinates. Carrollton marks the western boundary, Esplanade the eastern. They meet at City Park. Between those streets, the streets are roughly like rings on a tree, winding around that center.

  4. I agree that the researchers let their personal values cloud their interpretation of how much territory it’s good to cover, but perhaps there is something to be said about the parallels between our not covering alot of ground geographically and the reluctance of our collective culture to move forward progressively or to embrace new “sights” and ideas.

  5. Sherry Whetstone Sherry Whetstone

    I remember reading, in my youth, about an architect who designed a large business complex — but did NOT include any walkways through the grass surrounding the buildings. This “oversight” was deliberate. He instructed his builders to wait about a year, all the while noticing the pathways worn into the grass where people walked. Then he told them to put the walkways where people already walked — the natural paths. I have a hunch that not many people walked in grid patterns … which, in any case, are often not the shortest distance between any two points.

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