A World Where Things Only Almost Meet

[Image: California, via Google Maps.]

I was interested to read last month that “millions of cul-de-sacs [sic] and dead-ends have proliferated in street networks worldwide,” less because of this observation’s intended take-away—which is that neighborhoods around the world are becoming less connected and, thus, less pedestrian-friendly—and more because it sounds like geographers have discovered some sort of short-circuit in the matrix.

Our networks are hitting edges, artificially terminating before their time, leading back on themselves, the very neighborhoods in which we live now recursive and going nowhere, spatial design bugs, caught in loops.

[Image: Florida, via Google Maps.]

Taken out of context, it suggests the beginning of a new Paul Auster novel, or perhaps something more Pynchon-esque: a dystopian satire in which a Commissioner of Dead Ends has been hired to figure out why the streets of the world have gone haywire.

No one understands why the weave is sewing closed, a warp out of shape with its weft.

[Image: Ohio, via Google Maps.]

Recall that great line from Umberto Eco’s novel The Name of the Rose: “How beautiful the world would be if there were a procedure for moving through labyrinths.” Only, here, it’s some lonely postal worker—or a geography Ph.D. driven mad by student debt—out mapping the frayed edges of the world, wearily noting every new dead-end and cul-de-sac in a gridded notebook, diagramming loops, sketching labyrinths and mazes, driving empty streets all day on a quest for something undefinable, some answer to why the world’s patterns have gone so wrong. A self-diverging world, where things only almost meet.

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