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  • At first, this looks like a perfectly normal map of New York City.

  • You zoom in and there's Broadway, and Bowery.

  • But then you realize that the map is...wrong.

  • Streets run diagonally and the map adds land beyond the edge of the island.

  • That's because this wasn't a map.

  • It was a plan that was rejected.

  • And this onethe one with the perfect grid we knowwas basically what we ended

  • up with.

  • Today Manhattan has a grid so perfect that the way the sun shines through it is a hashtag

  • on Instagram.

  • But these grids were not all about beautiful design, or even making it easier to find your

  • way around when you come up out of the subway.

  • The real reason one of these plans made it and the other didn't?

  • It says something about howand whyall cities develop the way they do.

  • This is a utopia called Philadelphia.

  • When William Penn designed Philadelphia in 1681, he wanted to make an ideal city.

  • His intentions reflected American ideas and his Quakerism.

  • The lines on his grid weren't just right angles, they were morally right angles.

  • He wanted to preserve a sense of a country town using common areas and gardens.

  • In 1733 in Savannah, Georgia, the Oglethorpe Plan was influenced by the Enlightenment,

  • with an emphasis on balance and limits on the grid's growth.

  • That resulted in a grid too, but with an elegant design including common squares where all

  • could congregate, and commons limiting the grid plan's reach.

  • Pierre L'enfant's 1791 plan for Washington, DC, was even more ambitious, and though the

  • city deviated from his design, some flourishes survived, like diagonal avenues sliced across

  • the city, circles to vary the grid's monotony, and grand squares for each of the then-15

  • states.

  • New York was never so organized.

  • This 1767 map shows the chaotic curved streets and irregularities that marked the nearly

  • 150 years of European settlement.

  • What little order that had developed was largely private and subject to frequent change.

  • This 1776 map shows a planned grid with a large square.

  • That square belonged to the Delancey estate (Delaney was a typo).

  • Because the prominent New York family supported the British during the Revolutionary War,

  • the city confiscated their land after the war.

  • This 1789 map shows what happened to their planned square.

  • It disappeared.

  • New York could have been stuck with this chaos.

  • But as the 1800s rolled around, it couldn't afford to be much longer.

  • It's tough to know New York's exact population before 1800, but the trend was clear - massive

  • growth, more than doubling between 1770 and 1790.

  • Outbreaks of yellow fever that spread up and down the East Coast heightened the urgency

  • to build a cleaner, more orderly city.

  • And that is where this failed plan comes inin 1797 the city hired architect Joseph

  • Mangin and surveyor Casimir Goerck to map New York.

  • The plan showed the city as itshould be,” not as it was.

  • They widened janky streets and even added to the waterfrontthey proposed something

  • graceful, but the city needed something fastso their plan was rejected.

  • In 1807, the state established a new commission to create a workable plan,

  • and it was huge.

  • In this map, this color shows the settled land, and this color shows the projected areas

  • for the grid.

  • In their official report, they said they'd planned for “a greater population than is

  • collected at any spot on this side of China.”

  • The grid made sense to hold it.

  • They had debatedwhether they should confine themselves to rectilinear and rectangular

  • streets, or whether they should adopt some of those supposed improvements by circles,

  • ovals, and stars, which certainly embellish a plan, whatever may be their effect as to

  • convenience and utility.”

  • Basically, did they want L'enfant's Washington or a uniform grid?

  • They decided that, “right-angled houses are the most cheap to build and the most convenient

  • to live in.

  • The effect of these plain and simple reflections was decisive.”

  • The grid did that without screwing up existing property-lines.

  • It was predictable for developers.

  • This was a different type of design.

  • The grid seems orderly to us, but this order was in service of cheapness and efficiency.

  • The city needed to build to keep going.

  • What could be more New York than that?

  • This plan isn't for a city, but a park.

  • Central Park.

  • Landscape architect Frederick Olmsted designed that park and many other public spaces.

  • In a laundry list of criticisms of the New York City grid, he said that, “Still other,

  • and perhaps even graver, misfortunes to the city...could have been avoided by a different

  • arrangement of its streets.”

  • The dream plan would have been more refined, but this?

  • It just wasn't practical.

  • City plans reflect values.

  • And then they shape culture.

  • In 1811, New York's values were build, build, build.

  • So they adopted a plan to do it.

  • Without development, you just have the sun.

  • The buildings make it worth looking at.

  • Hey that's it for this episode about grids.

  • I'm about to read some comments from the previous episode of this Almanac: Road trip

  • edition.

  • It was all about the Vagabonds.

  • Edison was walking around calling Harvey Firestone dude.”

  • Uh yeah, he was, and also one thing I wasn't able to mention was that Edison was really

  • hard of hearing at this time of his life, so basically every time you wanted to talk

  • to him you had to yell directly in his ear.

  • “A 2019 version would probably be in a Tesla with Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffet

  • and Leonardo diCaprio.”

  • I will see you next week, and I'm actually going to be driving in this episode.

  • So get ready and buckle up.

At first, this looks like a perfectly normal map of New York City.

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B1 US Vox grid plan map york build

Where Manhattan’s grid plan came from

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    joey joey posted on 2021/05/18
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