The infographic you see here has managed to turn one of the ugliest facets of global cities into something approaching art. Behold urban sprawl, in the hands of Jessica Young and Luke Bulman.
Young and Bulman make up the Brooklyn graphic design studio Thumb, and their beautiful, though perhaps misleading, infographic compares 27 ring roads around the world — those peripheral highways, like the D.C. Beltway or the London Orbital, that read like shorthand for over-extended cities.
The design is simple but poignant. Roads are color-coded and layered at scale, one on top of the other. Silhouettes correspond to the real configuration of the routes, so you get a good sense of not just size but of geography. The whole thing looks like a Georgia O?Keeffe flower — which is probably the last thing that springs to mind when you think of endless tracts of asphalt in say, Atlanta, or Beijing.
The data has been tinkered with slightly though. It shows that Houston’s ring road — the massive black inkblot at the back — is leaps and bounds bigger than that of any other city surveyed. But that’s because it depicts planned development. (For the record, London claims the longest ring road in existence today.)
It should also be noted that the infographic was commissioned by the Rice University School of Architecture, which, of course, is in Houston. Interpret that as you will.