In contemporary discussions of preferred urban form, many planners and designers advocate a return to the grid. Proponents of the grid see it as legible, accessible, efficient, traditional and, perhaps, even egalitarian. This paper examines the grid in the context of social traditions which have used it as a dominant form in city building. A brief historical review shows that the grid emerges in some societies seeking to diffuse authority among citizens, but appears most commonly in societies which are centralizing or globalizing power. The extraordinary symbolism of the grid as a rational built form imposed on landscapes can convey a range of meanings, both positive and negative.