Main | Monday, March 21, 2011

200 Years Of The Manhattan Street Grid

Tomorrow is the 200th anniversary of the approval of Manhattan's street grid, a decision that some historians say did more to create the most densely populated space in North America than any other bit of urban planning.
The grid certified by the city’s street commissioners on March 22, 1811, spurred development by establishing seven miles of regular, predictable street access. It also laid the groundwork for nearly 2,000 acres of landfill that would be added to the island over the next two centuries. The commissioners concluded that New York “is to be composed principally of the habitations of men, and that straight-sided and right-angled houses are the most cheap to build and the most convenient to live in.” The grid, which incorporated some existing roads, would also prove surprisingly resilient. It accommodated motor vehicles (after sidewalks and stoops were pruned). It allowed planners to superimpose Central Park in the 19th century and superblocks like those of Stuyvesant Town and Lincoln Center in the 20th. In the 21st, the grid was extended west to include apartment houses on Riverside Boulevard. “The 200-foot-long block is short enough to provide continuous diversity for the pedestrian, and the tradition of framing out the grid by building to the street-wall makes New York streets walkable and vibrant,” said Amanda M. Burden, the director of city planning.
The reason the grid's designers created so many crosstown streets yet so few north-south avenues is because they envisioned that most traffic would go river-to-river.

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