House numbering often seems like a pretty straightforward concept: the way to find and identify a property on a street or in a neighbourhood is by giving it a unique number different from the buildings around it. The way one arrives at said number, however, differentiates quite a bit depending upon what part of the world you are in. The most direct plan, of course, is to simply start at one end of the street (1 on one side, 2 on the opposite side) and keep going until you reach the end. Most places in Europe, where the concept of house numbering first came about (Paris in 1512, to be exact), take this route. It’s very rare to see street numbers of more than 200 using this method, especially since street don’t often retain the same name for more than a kilometre or two at most. While the simplest way to do it, it does pose problems when buildings are subdivided; you often see houses numbered with halves or letters as a result (e.g. 12 ½ Any Street). There are some exceptions, of course. Genoa and Florence have two separate sequences for each street: one sequence for houses, another for buildings. Some streets in the United Kingdom and central/eastern Europe are numbered sequentially up one side of the road clockwise and then back down the other side to the end of the street. In isolated rural areas, houses are very often left unnumbered due to their isolation and are typically identified by a name instead.
A sequential numbering plan; the most basic house numbering scheme.
The clockwise scheme seen on a sizeable minority of British streets.
If you happened to be in Slovakia or the Czech Republic and saw a house number that looked like the one below, what would you make of it?
Source: LMB, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Czech_and_Slovak_house_numbering_scheme.jpg. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence.
Well, to make it easier, this photo actually displays two different numbers, 4/4 and 1292/30; it just happens to have two addresses because it lies on an intersection. In the former Czechoslovakia, each building is given an identifying number (a unique number-name displayed in black or blue) and an orientation number (a regular street number displayed in red). It’s actually not that hard to understand once you realise the black/blue number is just a name and that the location is contained in the red numbers. Accordingly, when writing an address, the identifying number comes first, followed by the street number (Any Street 345/6).
Australia and New Zealand have a mutually agreed-upon standard for house numbering based upon distance that has been in force since 2003. While urban areas follow the European sequential standard, both Australia and New Zealand have large expanses of rural properties that are not necessarily adjacent to another building or property. In this case, a property is assigned a number based upon the distance from the property’s access point to the beginning of the street, with a value assigned in tens of metres. A house with an entranceway 100 metres from the end of the street is given the number 10 for example, and so on up the street.
North America is where the largest street numbers are found, generally as a result of the nearly ubiquitous street grid system. Again, as in Europe and Australasia, street numbers increase from property to property with the distance one travels up the street. In North American cities with a grid plan, though, those numbers jump up by 100 after each standard block, often with a cardinal direction appended (those who read my article last month on Mormon town grids already know this, of course…). In my hometown, for example, house numbers are filled from 102 to 120 on roads between 1st Street NW and 2nd Street NW, and then jump up to 202 to 220 in the next block between 2nd Street NW and 3rd Street NW and so on; a combination of sequence with distance. Naturally, a rectilinear grid overlapping everything is physically impossible, and most urban planning since World War I has abandoned rigid street grids. Despite this, most newly-built neighbourhoods in North America still adhere to the general numbering grid, with street numbers continuing to increase based upon distance from a starting point. While numbering is very simple using this method, you do see large gaps in numbering as a result. When I lived in Prince George, British Columbia as a graduate student, I very quickly realised that in that city street numbers increased by eight with each standard-size lot; this allowed lots to be subdivided multiple times and new numbers to be assigned to the properties without ruining the numbering scheme.
Even in the most extreme cases in North America, numbers above 50000 are very uncommon (by the time they get there, they’ve usually ran through a few towns and cities and have probably hit another numbering grid), and six-digit addresses are only found in a few places. In British Columbia, the largest numbering plan is found in the Lower Mainland, extending along the border with Washington into the Fraser and Chilliwack valleys. The zero-point is at the west end of Delta (2 Deltaport Way), extending through the cities of Surrey, Langley, and Langley Township on the south side of the Fraser River, and Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge on the north side. In these municipalities, street and avenues are directly named with numbers, making house numbering rather intuitive. Upon reaching the western limits of Abbotsford on the south side of the river (27600) and Mission on the north side (29000), street names revert to proper nouns but the numbering plan continues eastward without interruption for quite some distance. Using the Fraser Valley Regional District’s mapping site, we can see that the north grid ends at the hamlet of Harrison Mills (46190 Lougheed Highway, to be exact), while the south grid goes even further east through Chilliwack, ploughing its way into the Cascade Mountains finally ending 130 kilometres from the beginning in Hope at 64600 Trans Canada Highway (a small storage reservoir just off of an on-ramp), tied with Chilliwack Lake Provincial Park further south in the Cascade Mountains at 64600 Chilliwack Lake Road (oh, hello there!).
As for the highest street number on the entire planet? Well, as I mentioned, there are some locations with six-digit addresses. Rocky View County in southern Alberta surrounding Calgary uses the township-and-range road system as starting prefixes for rural house numbers (for example, a house lying north of Range Road 271 will have a street number of 271xxx); but even these numbers pale in comparison to what would appear to be the undisputed champion of insanely high house numbers in southern Ontario. Quite a few rural townships employ six-digit house numbers based upon Ontario’s line-and-road system, but the apparent winner would have to be in the township of East Zorra-Tavistock in Oxford County, where house numbers approach 1 000 000. House numbers here (and in many other jurisdictions in this part of the province) indicate the name of the line or road with the first two numbers. In the extreme example, houses on 98 Road all have house numbers beginning with 98, followed by four more digits increasing by a value of 1000 for every line passed. And guess what? Google Street View just happens to have a perfect view of the house that, as far as I’ve been able to see, owns the highest house number in the world, located in the wonderfully named locale of Punkeydoodles Corners:
986075 Perth-Oxford Road, Punkeydoodles Corners, Ontario; as far I can glean the highest-numbered building in the world. The green house number sign at the foot of the driveway is rather blurry, but just down and across the road, this extremely high number (the second-highest in the world) can be clearly read. I’d be very interested in finding a higher number than this one.
This doesn’t mean that the method in which street numbers are written in North America is completely uniform, even with a grid system. The New York borough of Queens, for example, sticks a hyphen in between the number generated by the street and the final two digits that indicate the tens of feet the entranceway is located from the intersection; e.g. 164-09 Any Avenue instead of 16409 Any Avenue (an address located 90 feet beyond 164th Street). Certain places in Wisconsin will put a composite number in the address, resulting in compound addresses such as W292 S4498 Hillside Way (as opposed to the standard 4498 S Hillside Way you’d get elsewhere). Naperville, Illinois operates on the Chicago street numbering grid, but further defines its addresses by listing the number of miles west of the centre each location is at the beginning, resulting in addresses such as 30W270 Butterfield Road for places 30 miles west of the grid centre.
House numbering is not necessarily street-based, as one will find when trying to find buildings in Japan and South Korea, where numbering tends to be much more layered. Districts of cities, and blocks within those cities, are each given their own numbers as well, assigned clockwise based upon proximity to the city centre. Buildings within an individual block are then assigned clockwise around the block. This results in a three-number string denoting the address, e.g. 2-34-6 Anywhere (district 2, block 34, house 6). In the case of apartments or other subdivided buildings, you’ll generally see another number as well. Formally, the Japanese postal system encourages the district name and number to follow the block and house, so you will often see the string listed in Japan as 34-6, Anywhere 2 (in South Korea, you will see it written as Anywhere 2, 34-6). This isn’t completely universal in Japan; a notable holdout is Sapporo. Sapporo’s address strings are based upon city quadrants rather than clockwise numbering; the final two numbers indicating how many blocks east/west and north/south the building is from the city centre. Many larger thoroughfares in South Korea use the street name/house number system seen in Western countries, but the East Asian system is generally preferred.
21-9, Kamimeguro 2 in Tokyo (alternately, 2-21-9 Kamimeguro).
In Latin America, one often finds a city zone number first, then the street number; in most other cases, cities generally follow the sequential scheme. There are fast-growing cities in South Asia and Africa that attempt to implement numbering schemes, but find they are growing too fast to regulate them. There are numbering schemes that make absolutely no practical sense and simply lead to more confusion. And there are those places that have no house numbers or no numbering plan. Fine enough, one supposes, when the community or neighbourhood is small enough that everyone knows one another or knows where everything is intuitively, but quite the nuisance in places like Quezon City in the Philippines, with 2 700 000 residents and hundreds of thousands of buildings. It took until December 2009 for an actual numbering scheme to be proposed. Previously, land developers issued numbers to clients at their convenience, resulting in the same number being showing up multiple times on the same street or numbers careening up and down and up and down for no apparent reason. This has resulted in many incidences of improperly delivered mail, bills and notices. A coordinated numbering scheme would certainly help put an end to that, and help make navigation easier while doing so. There are also places with rather haphazard house numbering such as Venice, where each building in one of the six districts is given a number between 1 and 6000, regardless of street or sequence. Thus, it is imperative to know the street the building lies upon beforehand or else you’ll get lost almost immediately.
How does the numbering system in your town work? Let me know below in the comments.
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