America by Air: Chicago’s Glowing Grid

Adam Feiges
Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Adam Feiges sends a stunning, lambent view of Chicago’s grid system at night on his approach to O’Hare from the east:

The Interstate 90/94 split is visible in the bottom of the frame with the Kennedy Expressway curving to the left as it heads “inbound” towards the Loop. (Chicagoans have adopted the inbound/outbound dichotomy due to the fact that both interstates are East/West routes that are actually oriented north/south as they cross the metro area.) The grid system imposed by the Northwest Ordinance is on full display here.  The brighter roads follow the old section lines which divided the land up into square miles of 640 acres. These units were further subdivided into ¼ sections of 160 acres apiece. This was deemed to be a reasonable size that an individual family could farm and make a living.  The super bright road in the middle of the frame is Cicero Ave, which extends 35 miles to the south before it reaches open farmland.

Coincidentally I also captured a night-time shot above Chicago earlier this year, flying back to D.C. from Portland, Oregon. The pitch-black oblivion here is Lake Michigan: