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Urban areas flat as a pancake?
June 16, 2008 10:23 PM   Subscribe

What are the flattest cities in the world?

I mean Bonneville Salt Flats-flat. Well, no place is that flat, but what large urban areas are famous for having virtually no hilly areas at all? Sort of the anti-San Francisco.
posted by zardoz to Science & Nature (42 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Amsterdam has to be pretty close.
posted by phrontist at 10:29 PM on June 16, 2008


Chicago is pretty flat, I think (I'm from a disturbingly hilly place, though!) This surprised me, as I'd have imagined miles of downward slopes to Lake Michigan. Anyway, in the right season, it's wonderful for bike-riding. A lot of Florida seems flat. New York City, too.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 10:29 PM on June 16, 2008


Dutch polders are very flat. Dutch river landscapes are pretty flat too. Only dikes provide difference in height.
I'm hard pressed to think of any incline in major Dutch cities like Amsterdam, The Hague or Utrecht.

There are a few hills in Holland. We call them mountains.

Bangladesh is also a river delta. I suspect that's very flat too.
posted by jouke at 10:30 PM on June 16, 2008


The Phoenix valley is pretty damm flat. There are some mountains around the perimeter but the majority of the sprawl is completely flat.
posted by Mr_Zero at 10:42 PM on June 16, 2008


According to Yahoo answers it is Dallas Texas.
posted by Mr_Zero at 10:44 PM on June 16, 2008


Phoenix is super flat. There are mountains sticking up from the valley floor here and there, but building on them has been banned for 40 years so about 99% of the city is at the same elevation.
posted by TungstenChef at 10:54 PM on June 16, 2008


New York City, too.

Maybe Manhattan, but the outer boroughs are pretty hilly. "Brooklyn, of ample hills, was mine," wrote Whitman...
posted by nasreddin at 11:02 PM on June 16, 2008


The entire state of Florida. Try Orlando.
posted by milkrate at 11:09 PM on June 16, 2008


New Orleans.
posted by JujuB at 11:17 PM on June 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Mr. Zero - the Yahoo answers link doesn't mention Dallas.

It does, however, mention Houston. You want pancake? The highest elevation here in the Houston CMSA is 90 feet. Yup. 90 feet. At sea level.

When my running group does hill work, we basically scamper up and down the banks of Buffalo Bayou. For slightly bigger faux hills, we drive an hour north (Conroe) or west (Sealy).

Lotsa fun.
posted by yeoja at 11:20 PM on June 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


NoLa is more concave. It was weird pedaling uphill towards lakeside from mid-city. There are gently-graded hills in Orlando, small ones, but they're there. Maybe Miami is flatter.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:22 PM on June 16, 2008


As I remember grade 6 social studies, the midwest is pretty flat, having been under a glacier for quite some time. So--Detroit, Chicago, Toronto?
I think Chicago is also known for how flat its marathon is.
posted by rux at 11:27 PM on June 16, 2008


Not just a city, but Kansas is flatter than a pancake.
posted by cholly at 11:33 PM on June 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Amsterdam is very flat. Hence the bicycles.
posted by mateuslee at 11:37 PM on June 16, 2008


Toronto's not flat. It's all a gradual upslope and the whole area is full of ravines.
posted by loiseau at 11:46 PM on June 16, 2008


Charleston, SC is incredibly flat. From my very subjective experience, it seems flatter than Amsterdam. It's reclaimed marsh, built on landfill, so it's what you'd expect.
posted by farishta at 11:56 PM on June 16, 2008


Calgary, Alberta is very flat.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 12:20 AM on June 17, 2008


You need to look at cities in the developing world, preferably subsiding ones at river mouths, or on marshy seashores, lagoons or bays. These are cities which are probably very threatened by sea-level rises and suffer routine, widespread flooding. Inland, look at cities in the center of big landmasses.

I'm thinking your top three for a combination of flatness and immensity are going to be Lagos, Jakarta, and Mumbai. Accra (Ghana) also struck me as flat, as did Lomé (Togo). Baghdad is on the Tigris; Delhi's on a river as well, and Shanghai is at the mouth of the Huangpu River, where it meets the miles-wide Yangtze. Dhaka (Bangladesh), Rangoon (Burma), Bangkok...the list goes on. Ho Chi Minh City isn't that far from the mouth of the Mekong. Buenos Aires and Montevideo look like they're perched on the edge of huge plains.

Inland: Beijing? Manaus? Riyadh? Kashgar?

In the developed world, what about Venice? Saskatoon? Palm Springs, El Centro, Calexico?

And how flat is flat? How large do you want these cities to be?
posted by mdonley at 12:26 AM on June 17, 2008


Don't trust that Kansas is flatter than a pancake -- I've lived in Wichita and never found it a particularly flat city -- lots of smaller hills and downward slopes on the streets. Chicago, however, is obscenely flat in a lot of places.
posted by elisabethjw at 12:46 AM on June 17, 2008


I can also vouch for Chicago's flatness. I used to ride my bike to work there, over the 4.5 mile ride there was 6' of elevation change for an average slope of 0.02%.

Dee: There's actually a ridge that runs just outside of the City of Chicago which delineates the Great Lakes/Mississippi drainage basins. Pretty much just the city drains to the lake.
posted by hwyengr at 12:47 AM on June 17, 2008


Look at marathon profiles...

Berlin is flat like Kansas. Five times have world record times for marathon running been set in Berlin.
posted by three blind mice at 1:41 AM on June 17, 2008


Maybe Manhattan, but the outer boroughs are pretty hilly.

Even Manhattan has its share of hills. Lower Manhattan is pretty flat, but there are parts of Inwood where the elevation changes a couple hundred feet or so in about a tenth of a mile.
posted by Opposite George at 3:07 AM on June 17, 2008


I spent two weeks in Houston. When I returned to the Seattle area, it was a shock to drive up even a minor hillock, let alone something like Queen Anne Hill. Biggest "hill" I saw in Houston was a freeway overpass.
posted by maxwelton at 3:23 AM on June 17, 2008


Hah! Lomé is incredibly flat. Accra, not so much. When I was in Togo, I stayed in Aneho, which is about halfway across the country. From my house, you could see Bénin and Lomé, so, all the way across the country.
posted by whatzit at 3:58 AM on June 17, 2008


Male, the capital of the Maldives, maybe? I was there a little over a year ago and the entire city sits at 2 meters or less above sea level.

We met a gentleman who joked that if ocean levels continue to rise, they may be the next Venice.
posted by JaredSeth at 3:59 AM on June 17, 2008


Nthing Florida. Tampa is very flat.
posted by bluekrauss at 5:32 AM on June 17, 2008


I'll add to the folks saying Chicago, and throw in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Saskatoon (suggested above) isn't all that flat, since there's some interesting topography associated with the Saskatchewan River valley; the Red River (which flows through Winnipeg) doesn't cut much of a valley at all.
posted by Johnny Assay at 5:41 AM on June 17, 2008


As a cartography/geography aficionado, I would say you'd be looking at Miami, Tampa, New Orleans, or Houston as they're all essentially on a broad sandy coastal plain. Outside of North America though I have no suggestions.
posted by crapmatic at 5:49 AM on June 17, 2008


Inland: Beijing? Manaus? Riyadh? Kashgar?

Well, I can speak to Beijing and Kashgar. Beijing is more flat now than in its history as it has slowly filled in the rolling river valley it was created in. There are still some rolling areas around the city, and on about 3 days a year, after a rain has knocked down the smog and a wind blown it off to Tanjin, you can actually see the mountains that ring the city.

Kashgar is not flat at all. The streets wind and twist following the ancient paths that rolled up and down the hills to the river below.

According to Yahoo answers it is Dallas Texas.

We know that Dallas has at least one grassy knoll vantage point, so I'd say that's right out.

Anyone for New Orleans, the city so flat the city fathers had to build a hill so the children would know what a hill was?
posted by Pollomacho at 6:12 AM on June 17, 2008


In the developed world, what about Venice? Saskatoon? Palm Springs, El Centro, Calexico?

I'm originally from Saskatoon, and while it's definitely flat, it also has its share of inclines and declines, especially near the river. I'd imagine that the prairies are a good place to look, though. This is an interesting question.
posted by smorange at 6:52 AM on June 17, 2008


In the developed world, what about Venice? Saskatoon? Palm Springs, El Centro, Calexico?

Palm Springs is not flat. While parts of it are, other parts are particularly mountainous. In fact quite a few of the most expensive properties in PS are built on the side of a mountain.
posted by Sophie1 at 7:32 AM on June 17, 2008


Ho Chi Minh City is definitely flat. I don't think there's a single hill or incline within thirty miles of the city center.
posted by borkingchikapa at 7:37 AM on June 17, 2008


I'm going to have to vote for New Orleans. I've run the half marathon here several times, and the only inkling of an incline is over an overpass.
posted by pyjammy at 8:13 AM on June 17, 2008


Wait, wait. Are you looking for the lowest cities, the flattest cities, or some combination of the two? We need a definition! :)
posted by mdonley at 8:49 AM on June 17, 2008


Not just a city, but Kansas is flatter than a pancake.

This actually brings up an interesting ambiguity in the meaning of "flat." The article linked in support of this is apparently measuring "flat" in the sense of "planar," which Kansas assuredly is very close to.

But Kansas is actually not that "flat" in the sense of "level"--it has a very gradual, very even upwards slope towards its western border. In fact, there is a difference of over 3000 feet in elevation between the highest and lowest points in Kansas (more than Pennsylvania or Arkansas!)
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:54 AM on June 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


New Orleans. (Memphis is mountainous in comparison).
posted by Carbolic at 10:58 AM on June 17, 2008


I wish all of Kansas were as flat as stereotype makes it out to be. I grew up mostly in southcentral Kansas (but north and west of Wichita) and it's pretty flat. I spent years in western Kansas. Pretty flat. But I've driven many times through the Flint Hills and live in the Glacial Hills and it ain't flat in these places.

I hate hills.
posted by bryon at 8:59 PM on June 17, 2008


Oh, I've been in Indianapolis quite a bit. Seems like it was quite on the level, but I'd be happy for a native (or at least a current resident) to comment.
posted by bryon at 9:00 PM on June 17, 2008


Singapore is pretty flat. Its highest point is a hill 165 metres/540 feet above sea level. Most of the rest of the city is <>
elevation map
posted by Xianny at 9:28 PM on June 17, 2008


Looks like I messed something up, oops! I meant to write that most of the rest of the city is less than 2 m above sea level.
posted by Xianny at 9:28 PM on June 17, 2008


Perth, the australian version, is pretty darn flat. It's mostly coastal plain, so there's a few sand dunes, but apart from the eastern edge which goes up to the grand height of about 300m, it's a rare learner driver that actually has to do an actual hill start.
posted by kjs4 at 9:51 PM on June 17, 2008


Oh, I've been in Indianapolis quite a bit. Seems like it was quite on the level, but I'd be happy for a native (or at least a current resident) to comment.

While Indy is mostly flat, I think it has enough hills that it's not really comparable to some of the other suggestions listed here. What hills we do have are measured in tens of feet rather than hundreds, but it's enough to knock it out of contention, I think. Some of the area around Fall Creek and Geist Reservoir on the far northeast side has some non-trivial hills, and there's Crown Hill Cemetery and Eagle Creek on the west side.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 5:58 AM on June 18, 2008


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