The Disorderly Story of the Perfectly Orderly New York City Street Grid
Manhattan was born free, but almost everywhere north of Houston Street, it is in chains.
Such has been the argument of a long line of writers, critics, and ordinary New Yorkers who despise—with a vitriol nearly unique to debates about city planning—the so-called Commissioners’ Plan of 1811 that imposed a rigid grid on Manhattan island to facilitate and organize future development. Edith Wharton ridiculed the plan’s “deadly uniformity of mean ugliness.” Henry James decried the city’s “primal topographic curse.” Walt Whitman lamented that “streets cutting each other at right angles … are certainly the last thing in the world consistent with beauty of situation.”
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