The saying “all roads lead to Rome” has been used since the Middle Ages, and refers to the fact that the Roman Empire’s roadways radiated outwards from its capital. But does that maxim still apply today, now that we have so many more roads leading to so many more places?
Moovel Lab’s Benedikt Groß wanted to find out, and enlisted the help of digital geography expert Raphael Reimman and interactive designer Philipp Schmitt. Schmitt's work often deals with place and geography—he’s the guy who brought us the Camera Restricta, a super-smart camera that uses GPS and social media to determine the number of photos taken from where you’re standing, and, if the number’s too high, retracts its own shutter to spare your Instagram followers the world’s billionth photo of the Eiffel Tower.
As it turns out, pretty much all roads in Europe do lead to Rome. For Roads to Rome, the team mapped over 400,000 starting points across the continent and the resulting route from each to Italy’s capital. The bolder the road’s line, the more heavily trafficked it would be.
But the world as known by Europeans is a lot bigger now than it was in the Middle Ages, and all its roads can’t actually all lead to Rome because of, you know, oceans. But when the designers coincidentally found out there were 10 cities called Rome in the United States alone, they incorporated that piece of trivia into the work. (As it turns out, there's a city called Rome or Roma on every continent.) "I think one of the biggest strengths of Roads to Rome is that we were able to incorporate some humour into the project," says Schmitt. Here’s their map of all roads leading to Romes in the US:
Rome curiosity satisfied, the team also mapped roads to each European nation’s capital, and US state capitals.
They also created an “urban mobility footprint” for a variety of metropolises that demonstrates the degree of directness of travel made available by the city’s roads. The footprint of a perfectly designed town would be a straight line full of direct roads leading to the city center. No city is that well planned, of course, but with Moovel Lab's urban mobility footprint it's clear that some are better than others.
"Our interest and process was not driven by a predefined task to prove something, but was of explorative nature," says Schmitt. "We thought this was interesting, so we figured out how to calculate and visualise a picture of it. Once that was accomplished we analysed what we had and moved on from there."