BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND, is shaped like a kidney, taller than it is wide, curving eastwards slightly on its longer sides. It is contiguous, blob-like, sensible. Birmingham, Alabama, founded in 1871 and named after its English ancestor, looks as if it was imagined by a deranged computer, straight lines and sharp angles and missing bits in the middle (see illustration above). One pseudopodium extends to the west, long and thin, until it widens out a bit and ends in a box. To the east is a tumorous outgrowth, thin, then wide, then thin again, doubling back on itself several times.
From San Jose in the west to Savannah in the east, and from tiny Minot in North Dakota to sprawling Fort Worth in Texas, odd city maps can be found all across America. With some exceptions, these boundaries are administrative confections that make few allowances for geography, population density or common sense.