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plandrea:

Happy Birthday, Manhattan Street Grid!

Two hundred years ago today, city commissioners certified the Manhattan street grid, spurring development by ensuring 7 miles of regular street access.

When the 2000-block grid was approved, urbanized Manhattan ended at Greenwich Village. Areas north were farmland and unsettled areas.

When the street grid was designed, planners anticipated that New York, then a city of 40,000 people, would grow up to 34th Street and have a population of 400,000 over the next 50 years. By 1860, Manhattan had already grown to 800,000 and continued to grow uptown. 

The street grid was chosen because officials thought that the consistent 90 degree angles, dissimilar from the narrow crooked streets downtown, would discourage the spread of fire and disease.

The grid made the city more egalitarian, carving out lots (mostly 25 by 100 feet) available for purchase. Roland Barthes, the 20th-century French philosopher, wrote: “This is the purpose of New York’s geometry. That each individual should be poetically the owner of the capital of the world.”

Today, City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden celebrates the block: “The 200-foot-long block is short enough to provide continuous diversity for the pedestrian, and the tradition of framing out the grid by building to the street-wall makes New York streets walkable and vibrant.” 

Quotes from NYT

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