Synopses & Reviews
When it was conceived in the early nineteenth century, New York City's rigid rectilinear street grid was intended to end the notorious chaos of "old New York" spreading unplanned from Manhattan's southern tip. Turning the rocky hills and swampy valleys into the city we know today was a vast project of physical and social engineering; the thousands of rectangular blocks, lots, and eventually buildings that the grid produced gave a sense of stability and purpose to a young city evolving into greatness. It also made New York a place distinct from nature.
Now it's time to tell the grid's story: What prompted it? How did the commissioners and their surveyor develop the plans? How has the lengthening life of the city been shaped by it? Whether you love or hate the grid, little has been written about it. Until now.
A specialty book on New York City for general readers, this volumewas written by a former CBS news writer and uses an accessible journalistic style. The author has written extensively on the historyand infrastructure of the city ( a previous book focused on the water system). This book looks at the shape of New York City, asdetermined by a rigorous urban planning grid laid out for the city's future in 1811. It focuses on why the planners chose a geometric gridof rectangles for the city's shape, the massive job of converting an urban landscape that grew around islands, forests, swamps, and hillsinto a flat plain divided into blocks, and how this became the model for American cities. The author writes with obvious affection for thecity, and the happily parochial view of its lifetime residents, for instance the certainty that the City of New York is actually Manhattan.Annotation ©2016 Ringgold, Inc., Portland, OR (protoview.com)
You either love it or hate it, but nothing says New York like the street grid of Manhattan. Created in 1811 by a three-man commission featuring headstrong Founding Father Gouverneur Morris, the plan called for a dozen parallel avenues crossing at right angles with many dozens of parallel streets in an unbroken grid. Hills and valleys, streams and ponds, forests and swamps were invisible to the grid; so too were country villages, roads, farms, and estates and generations of property lines. All would disappear as the crosshatch fabric of the grid overspread the island: a heavy greatcoat on the land, the dense undergarment of the future city.
No other grid in Western civilization was so large and uniform as the one ordained in 1811. Not without reason. When the grid plan was announced, New York was just under two hundred years old, an overgrown town at the southern tip of Manhattan, a notorious jumble of streets laid at the whim of landowners. To bring order beyond the chaos and good real estate to market the street planning commission came up with a monolithic grid for the rest of the island. Mannahatta the native "island of hills" became a place of rectangles, in thousands of blocks on the flattened landscape, and many more thousands of right-angled buildings rising in vertical mimicry.
The Manhattan grid has been called "a disaster" of urban planning and "the most courageous act of prediction in Western civilization." However one feels about it, the most famous urban design of a living city defines its daily life. This is its story."
The never-before-told story of New York's iconic street gridand#151;who made the decision and why, how it was carried out, and what impact it had on local, national, and world history
About the Author
is a writer, journalist, historian, and a former editor at CBS News. He is an Associate Editor of the second edition of The Encyclopedia of New York City
and was a contributor to The Encyclopedia of New York State
and The Encyclopedia of the New American Nation
. His writing has appeared in the New York Times
, the New York Observer
, the New Yorker
, the New York Sun
, the New-York Journal of American History
, and American Heritage of Invention and Technology
. The author of the highly acclaimed books Bond of Union
and Water for Gotham
, he lives in Manhattan.