Thursday, December 29, 2011

Manhattan’s Master Plan: Why NYC Looks the Way it Does

by Gregory Wessner

New Yorkers take it for granted that we can say things like “meet me at 85th Street and Third Avenue” and know that regardless of whether someone has been to that intersection, they will easily be able to get there. It’s all thanks to Manhattan’s legendary street grid, which celebrates its 200th anniversary this year.
In 1807, frustrated by years of uncontrolled development and a decade of public health epidemics attributed to lower Manhattan’s cramped and irregular streets, New York City’s Common Council (the predecessor to today’s City Council) petitioned the State Legislature to develop a street plan for Manhattan above Houston Street, at that time a rural area of streams and hills populated by a patchwork of country estates, farms and small houses. The adoption four years later of the Commissioners’ Plan established the grid of 12 north-south avenues and 155 east-west streets that, though it would take most of the 19th century to build, continues to fundamentally shape life in New York.
But is something so infrastructural, something that’s taken for granted every day, really worth celebrating?
The grid is definitely worth celebrating — without it, New York might not be the great city it has become. That’s why the Museum of the City of New York and the Architectural League of New York have organized a pair of exhibitions about its past and future. The first of these exhibitions, “The Greatest Grid: The Master Plan of Manhattan, 1811-2011,” curated by architectural historian Hilary Ballon, traces the creation, implementation and evolution of the plan from 1811 through the 20th century.

urban renewal plan for manhattan, from "Jane Jacobs and the Future of New York" at the Municipal Art Society, by conbon33

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