Essay The Greatest Quid

Submitted By jjduncs
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The Greatest Quid

“What is the history of the New York grid? How did it come into being and what was

the intention of its inventors? Why is it not entirely regular? What were its shortcomings and how were they solved? What are, in your opinion, the advantages and advantages of this kind of modernist city planning?”

A gridiron can be described as a framework of parallel lines, typically used in sets of two running perpendicular to one another forming a grid pattern. Manhattan’s streets and avenues can be likened to these two sets of perpendicular gridirons forming a regular grid work which creates the predominantly uniform blocks upon which the famous Manhattan metropolis has risen. I am of the inclination that the advantages gained by this kind of modernist city planning are outweighed by flaws fundamental to the commissioners plan of 1811. It is known that at the beginning of the 1800’s, the main city of New York was on the Southern tip of Manhattan and it was comprised of a collection of warehouses, homes, docks, churches and government buildings, with the preceding 100 years mostly a competition between the Dutch and
British for control of the New York Harbour.1 As the population grew, the need for a plan to be laid out to ensure the City’s prosperous and potentially profitable future arose. The years 1790 to 1800 saw the population of manhattan rise quickly, with the total inhabitants almost doubling from 33 000 to 60 000.2 People were pouring in from
Europe and the commissioners estimated Manhattan was going to grow to a city the size of Paris over the next 50 years.3 During this time of early rapid expansion, homes were being erected on the nearest free land and streets were being positioned

"Streets and Avenues: A History of the Grid System | Become A New Yorker." Become A New
Yorker
. http://becomeanewyorker.com/streets-and-avenues-a-history-of-the-grid-system/
(accessed May 10, 2013).
1

Rosenwaike, Ira. Population History of New York City. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University
Press, 1972.
2

Paris was home to half a million people at the time. (They were wrong, of course, New York would top nearly 800,000 by then.)
3

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The Greatest Quid

impromptu, a sure recipe for a messy city with little order down the road. It became apparent to the City Council that they needed to get as much real estate as they could on the Island planned and ready for the influx of people. Thus, is 1807, They were given state permission to establish an in depth street plan for Manhattan and subsequently created a 3-person commission which gave the individuals the exclusive power to “lay out streets, roads, and public squares, of such width, extent, and direction, as to them shall seem most conducive to public good…”.4 This definitive statement itself is one I found to be incongruent with accounts of how the grid was applied in reality. The ruthless nature and the unrelenting method in which the grid was employed saw no consideration taken to the existing homes and livelihoods already in place. As such, 39% of existing buildings were torn to the ground to make sure the grid would be installed exactly as it was envisioned by the commissioners - a physical representation of the cartesian co-ordinates system simply overlaid onto the landscape with no appreciation for its inherent qualities.5
The plan was destined to fail, its primary considerations being as they were to enhance real estate values and economic efficiency. The grid imposed a mathematical order on an organic landscape and the environmental variation across the island was obliterated to make way for the homogenous grid plan. It was a means by which to rationalise the landscape through the process of spatially reorganising the world to suit this geometrically regular ideal.6

Bridges, William Morris, Simeon De Witt, and John Rutherford. Map Of…