August 15, 2022
chicago grid system
Navigating Chicago: Understand the Chicago Grid System
By LLCR Staff

Are you planning on moving to the Windy City for the first time or need to understand the lay of the land better? If so, grasping the Chicago grid system will help you navigate the city and figure out your commute.

That’s why we’re sharing what you should know about this grid system- including the basics of how it works and even how it came to be.

The Chicago Grid System

As its name implies, the Chicago Grid System systematically maps out all of Chicago’s streets on a grid. This includes the residential and commercial streets, secondary arterials, grand boulevards, expressways, gangways and alleys.

Relatively speaking, Chicago is known for having a fantastic grid system, which is well laid out and fairly easy to understand. While the street system has evolved, its roots go back nearly two centuries.

Interestingly enough, the Chicago grid system is older than the city itself, dating back to 1830 and designed by James Thompson, a surveyor from Kaskaskia. Any building that existed in the area before 1830 had to be moved onto the grid. Although the grid grew as the city of Chicago was established, Thompson’s original grid became the template for a network that would eventually cover the 234 square miles of Chicago—and extend into suburbs beyond its borders.

While there is a lot to Chicago’s grid system, we’re starting by keeping it simple. 

To this day, the intersection of State and Madison Streets, located in the Loop, marks the heart of Chicago and the epicenter of its grid system.

Since Chicago is oriented along the cardinal directions, most streets run north/south or east/west. The prefix of an address indicates which direction it is in relation to State and Madison Street. If you’re headed somewhere on North Lincoln, you know that location is North of State and Madison Street. Likewise, if you find yourself somewhere along South Clark Street, you know that you are south of those cross streets.

Additionally, Chicago street numbering increases or decreases depending on the distance in miles from the State and Madison axis lines. While odd street numbers are on the south and east sides of streets, even street numbers are on the north and west sides.

As you study the Chicago grid system, it is also helpful to know that there are usually eight blocks to each mile. This means there are 800 addresses for each mile of the streetscape. So, if you’re downtown at 330 N Dearborn to 1530 N Dearborn, you start by subtracting 330 from 1530 to get 1,200. Then you divide 1,200 to get 1.5. This tells you your commute is roughly a mile and a half.

The Chicago neighborhoods and grid system may appear complex, but don’t let it overwhelm you. Once you understand the basics, hopefully, you’ll find it easier to navigate this large city. 

If you find yourself getting ready to move to Chicago, the Luxury Living Chicago Realty team can help you find the perfect condo in the right location for your commute.

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