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)

Eva Holland is co-editor of World Hum. She is a former associate editor at Up Here and Up Here Business magazines, and a contributor to Vela. She's based in Canada's Yukon territory.

6 Comments for Happy 200th Birthday to the Manhattan Grid

Darrin 03.23.11 | 12:21 PM ET

Great link.  I often wondered how Stuyvesant street survived.  It figures that the power of money kept it there.

On that same page, the Times also has an interactive population density graphic for the past hundred years.  It’s amazing to see how many people used to stuff their families into tenements in the East Village and Lower East Side one hundred years ago.  The modern population is about one fifth of what it used to be in those ‘hoods, but you’d never guess that by walking around the trendy shops and restaurants there, as the neighborhood’s real estate is in ludicrously high demand.  The graph shows how a newer affluent demographic has changed the population of the LES and East Village.

J$ 03.29.11 | 2:22 AM ET

The post is pretty interesting. I really never thought I could have a good read by this time until I found out this site. I am grateful for the information given. Thank you for being so generous enough to have shared your knowledge with us.

lk@Rakhi Pujari 03.29.11 | 3:56 AM ET

Pretty interesting. Nice to see for this information . I shall try to visit Mahattan more closely keeping in view above great info .A gift for seekers.

Benjamin Keene 03.29.11 | 12:50 PM ET

I’m late to the party but no less happy to celebrate. In addition to the grid, Manhattan is a welcoming city to travelers because it’s also well signed. Nothing helps your sense of direction like regularly placed street names.

Sarah 05.05.11 | 1:33 PM ET

I agree.  The signs are incredibly welcoming, as well as the separate bike lanes and the awesome subway system.  Now only if my city could be so cool.

helenmicheal 05.14.11 | 5:54 AM ET

The post is amazing. Nice to see for this information. I will try to visit the Manhattan and I thank you for giving such great information.

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