Dear Dr. Boli: I’ve just read that the governing powers in South Sudan are making plans to rebuild their cities in the shapes of animals and fruits. Why have we not adopted this enlightened policy in the United States? —Sincerely, Daniel Burnham.

Dear Sir: In fact cities in the United States have been laid out in the shapes of animals and fruits for centuries, but no one makes a big deal of it over here. The tradition goes back to 1694, when the city of Annapolis was laid out in the shape of a quince. Since then, many similar projects have been undertaken:

The city of Richmond, Virginia, was laid out in the form of a Guernsey cow.

Savannah, Georgia, was built in the form of a honeycomb.

Pierre L’Enfant designed the city of Washington as a large carambola; it was Benjamin Banneker who had the good sense to give the plans their current simpler form.

The urban areas of Pittsburgh and its surrounding boroughs are built in the shape of an octopus.

Elmira, New York, was laid out in the shape of Syracuse, New York, and vice versa.

Kansas City, Missouri, was built in the form of a large cat pursuing a mouse (Kansas City, Kansas).

The city of Houston was built in the shape of an armadillo flattened in the middle of the highway.

Seattle is built in the form of a unicorn, with the Starbucks headquarters at the tip of the horn.

Whenever this subject comes up, Dr. Boli is invariably surprised to discover how few Americans are aware of the massive works of urban art all around them. He sometimes wonders whether this supposedly universal public education he hears about is anything more than a myth.


  1. Most people don’t realize that Tucson, Arizona is laid out in the shape of a jumping cholla cactus (Cylindropuntia fulgida). Part of the urban layout involves the xeriscaping of actual homeowners’ yards which completes the cactus shape.

  2. Caren says:

    According to rumor, Pittsburgh was designed by M.C. Escher, which explains all the places you can’t get to from here as well as that area along Routes 22 and 60 where north and south are the same direction.

  3. Jared says:

    Far be it from me to question Dr. Boli, but I have always assumed that Richmond was laid out in the form of a Greek theatre mask:

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