Happy 200th Birthday to the Manhattan Grid

Travel Blog  •  Eva Holland  •  03.22.11 | 12:33 PM ET

On March 22, 1811, city officials in New York certified a proposed grid plan of 11 north-south avenues and 155 east-west streets—the building blocks of modern Manhattan. Here’s the New York Times on the impact of the plan:

The grid was the great leveler. By shifting millions of cubic yards of earth and rock, it carved out modest but equal flat lots (mostly 25 by 100 feet) available for purchase. And if it fostered what de Tocqueville viewed as relentless monotony, its coordinates also enabled drivers and pedestrians to figure out where they stood, physically and metaphorically.

“This is the purpose of New York’s geometry,” wrote Roland Barthes, the 20th-century French philosopher. “That each individual should be poetically the owner of the capital of the world.”

I agree: The grid has always made me fearless as a tourist exploring New York City. I never feel lost for more than half a block—regaining my bearings is as easy as walking to the nearest intersection.

The Times also has an interactive map of the original plan laid over today’s city streets. (Via @douglasmack)