City on a Grid: How New York Became New York

City on a Grid: How New York Became New York

Gerard Koeppel / Nov 26, 2020

City on a Grid How New York Became New York You either love it or hate it but nothing says New York like the street grid of Manhattan Created in by a three man commission featuring headstrong Founding Father Gouverneur Morris the plan ca

  • Title: City on a Grid: How New York Became New York
  • Author: Gerard Koeppel
  • ISBN: 9780306822841
  • Page: 404
  • Format: Hardcover
  • 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 swampsYou 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 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.

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      Published :2020-08-13T21:30:02+00:00

    About "Gerard Koeppel"

      • Gerard Koeppel

        I write history, mostly New York related so far, mostly in books of my own and others , but also in anything from magazines and journals to historical signage in city parks I started writing at Wesleyan, for the student paper and in a grueling non fiction writing seminar with V.S Naipaul After college, I was the captain of a charter sailboat with a past, an awful law student, a licensed hack out of a Greenwich Village taxi garage , and then, for many years, a radio reporter writer editor producer, mostly with CBS News In radio, I learned to write short and unlearned narrative With each book of history, I m trying to do the narrative thing better I was born at an edge of the Manhattan street grid, in a hospital since replaced by a high rise condo, raised on the suburban mainland, and for many decades have lived on my native island, mostly at edges of its dominant rectilinearity I m married and we have three grown but still health insurance covered children, who may someday cross paths with some of mine Or not.


    407 Comments

    1. I've always been a little claustrophobic living on the island. Now I have a name to my pain. While the author claims neutrality about the grid in the beginning, he is clearly an 'anti-griddy' and makes a strong case for his not-so-hidden biases with regards to traditional concepts of urban beauty, the incompetence of the original planners, and the evil machinations of Aaron Burr, the man who may ultimately be responsible for it all. On the other hand, the author's avenues of thinking often flow [...]


    2. Prodigiously researched history of New York's street grid - alternately fascinating and frustrating. At times it feels like the author is mining a dissertation on Manhattan's earliest urban planning days, going down rabbit holes about how an early city surveyor was paid. At times, it reads like a mild polemic against the tyranny of the grid. At times, it zooms by utopian visions of the mid-20th century with just a glance. Taken as a whole, the book offers some fascinating background on the uniqu [...]


    3. The history and story of how the grid came to be is an interesting one. It shows the decisions that were made and not made that put NYC in a straitjacket that is almost impossible to escape. The narrative does get bogged down in too much minutiae at times, but this is still a good view into how urban planning can greatly impact the lives of people that live in cities.


    4. A comprehensive history of New York City's grid system, this historical volume starts off strong but gradually falls into a recitation of minor historical personages and events.


    5. City on a Grid is a comprehensive well-researched look at the creation of the street grid of Manhattan in New York.Koeppel discusses the creation of the grid, the individuals who helped shape it, and some of the many opinions about it. Individuals tend to fall in the "love it" or "leave it" camps with the grid, either wishing it was a part of their own town or being thankful that their cities were allowed to grow a bit more organically. Koeppel's discussion showcases the merits for both sides ul [...]


    6. An interesting book by Gerard Koeppel on how the Island of Mannahatta became the present-day Manhattan. Although a bit dry, the book is engaging for someone who moved recently to this bustling city. It is a detailed account of the challenges and controversies surrounding the making of this gridded city and its many avenues.


    7. I found the book interesting. Lots of things about the history of NYC that I did not know. But in some ways I think the book could have been better organized. It could also have used better quality illustrations!


    8. Well researched recap of the process under which the NYC street grid plan came to be. If you're not interested in things like this, it probably won't get you interested - but for anyone with a passing interest in city planning or NYC history - I say give it a read.


    9. Bleh. Not one interesting tidbit. And the writing style was so inconsistent! Frustrating and jarring when writers do that.



    10. New York City is the first city I got a chance to know, and I've always been familiar with, and comfortable with, its grid of numbered streets and avenues, which made a logical sense, kind of like a metric system of urban planning. If you're planning to meet someone at Second Avenue and 79th Street, for example, even if you've never been to that part of town, you know exactly where it is and how to get there. The grid makes it easier to feel that you know the city.But New York City didn't necess [...]


    11. This is an interesting history of New York City's physical layout, explaining how the city adopted and implemented the grid system of wide avenues and narrow streets that describes most of the island above Houston Street. While explaining the grid, Koeppel also discusses proposals that were floated to fill in the East River, among other things. Most New Yorkers will probably find this book thought provoking.The author points out correctly that you either love or hate the grid system - I'm firmly [...]


    12. The story of how the grid came to dominate NYC. The grid is a love it or hate it thing--I'm a fan, because I'm so directionally impaired and it helps me immensely. The author is not, because of how it completely trampled and erased the island's natural beauty, with very little consideration. (It's true, they did. They didn't even try to do their jobs, they mostly went the easy way, using past ideas, even though they weren't fully planned or fleshed out. And because they had full legal authority, [...]


    13. Growing up outside of Boston, I was always struck by the differences between my city and New York. New York's grid, unrelenting as it is, at least made a kind of sense compared to my city's network of one-way streets with names that spoke to history, not practicality. New York's grid has a relentlessness to it that seems to suit the city's ethos. However the real Mannahatta under Manhattan was a hilly, marshy, beautiful place nearly obliterated by the grid forced onto the city by a few city plan [...]


    14. This one started strong and tapered off, with a few murmurs of life toward the end. Koeppel is a master of the subject matter and clearly a capable writer as well - perhaps the problem is just that the subject matter gets a bit dull after the grid is proposed in 1811. One beef I had: the repeated vilification of the grid's ugliness eventually came to feel like a dismissal of the entire borough as a grotesque eyesore. Lots of people hated the grid, I get it. The grid created lots of problems, esp [...]


    15. This is a fascinating explanation of why most of Manhattan's streets are laid out on a boring and monotonous grid pattern. (Basically, the grid design was the default choice when it was decided on in the early 19th century.) Most fun are the descriptions of what Manhattan might have been had the early city planners not been so prosaically inclined. Imagine a Manhattan with grand boulevards - with not just one but a few diagonal avenues - with hills, crooked streets, curves, and circles everywher [...]


    16. The reader definitely needs to be familiar with New York to best enjoy this book. An interesting history of how the grid came to define New York.


    17. If you've ever wondered why Manhattan is laid out in a relentless right-angled grid -- well, you can read this book and learn the history. It's fascinating.


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