Modern American Urban Terrain Analysis

By Don Shift, via American Partisan.

Read the entire thing.  Much food for thought.  Below is a sample.  Follow the link for the whole enchilada.


Urban terrain is unique in that it affords lots of visual obstructions, concealment, hiding places, and even cover. It can be as exposed as a pool table and as confusing as a maze. High vantage points, natural and artificial, can put observers snipers above you. You will frequently find yourself boxed in by walls and fences.

Cities are contradictions when it comes to battlefield terrain. Each advantage is often countered by a disadvantage. Uniformity on a map doesn’t translate to reality on the street. The considerations are not just physical geography as inside every city there is a population that can be with you, neutral, or against you and how you fight can change that dynamic. Analysis of urban terrain is a social and spatial exercise.

While we can discuss the physical elements of fighting and maneuvering, a deep understanding of your community at the human level is necessary. We have to think beyond simple geography and consider the human terrain, demographics, as the population itself is an adjunct to the lay of the land. Demographics and interpersonal politics may dictate the outcome of confrontations or events.

In terms of observation and fields of fire, walls, structures, and landscaping block views and reduce distances. Long streets, open plazas, and grid designs can open up very long sightlines. These same sightlines might be great on top of a house but lousy at street level where a retaining wall limits cuts the view at a man’s standing height. High buildings or elevated terrain can be a great vantage point for an observer but also increase the conspicuousness of that observer and draw fire.

At the same time as there are plenty of cover and concealment in modern cities, there can be very little. Conscientious defenders may not be able to hide behind or inside a building because civilians are inside. A block wall may protect the people behind it from view while those on the other side are caught naked in the open like a rat in a bucket.

Long range observation


Sightlines will be long, usually along streets and in open spaces. For non-arterial streets, this means up to 300m within tracts, usually 200m or less. A quarter to half a mile is not unusual especially on main roads or where elevation is involved. Sightlines will be interrupted by terrain and objects. You might be seen at half a mile down an arterial street, but parked cars, trees, shadows, etc. might make effective shooting at that distance difficult. Other visual obstructions may be:

  • Natural terrain such as inclines and dips.
  • Hillsides or natural contours forcing the road to curve.
  • Artificial terrain changes such as designed curves or roads built around existing property.

There are gentle undulations in every road that we seldom notice. From a driver’s perspective a rise of three or six feet in the roadway might as well be flat. At eyeball level, or lower in a gunfight, that height is significant. Like any elevation change, it can either work in your favor or against you.

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