Where Manhattan’s grid plan came from

  • Published: 02 August 2019
  • Manhattan is famous for its grid — so famous that people take pictures of the way the sun shines through it. But the origin of that grid wasn’t always certain — and not everybody is a fan.

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    In this episode of Vox Almanac’s Road Trip edition, Phil Edwards explores the history of the New York City grid, with detours to Philadelphia, Savannah, and Washington, DC. Early city planning around the turn of the 19th century was a contentious and undecided discipline with lots of options and disagreement.

    New York City was particularly chaotic and unplanned at the time, after years of catering to developers and, at the same time, ignoring their requests for a more sane city plan. That made the introduction of a new plan in the 1800s a more urgent matter — and a reasonable time to introduce a plan that lacked many of the artistic flourishes of contemporary city plans.

    New York was all about building, and building fast — and it’s still that way today.

    Want to learn more? The two most helpful papers we found were these:
    “The grid as city plan: New York city and laissez‐faire planning in the nineteenth century” by Peter Marcuse and “The Greatest Grid: the New York Plan of 1811” by Edward K. Spann.

    You can also find copies of a lot of early maps of New York via the Library of Congress and New York Public Library.

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Comments • 613

  • MsBea 345
    MsBea 345  2 weeks back

    This helped me with class. Thank you

    • Cyber_King
      Cyber_King  1 months back

      Grew up in the UK. Streets are more natural and cities feel smaller (even if they're actually massive).

      • Naveen Mallikarjuna
        Naveen Mallikarjuna  1 months back

        "Without development, you just have the sun. The buildings make it worth looking at." Ugh!

        • RAtHOR
          RAtHOR  1 months back

          To me grids are just *yuck* . Curvy roads for everyone!

          • keith m
            keith m  2 months back

            The grid system is mind numbing, i love the way the uk street plans are chaotic.

            • AndroidDoctorr
              AndroidDoctorr  2 months back

              Man that ended way too soon, I was totally invested. I want to know more

              • AlphaMikeFoxtrot 101
                AlphaMikeFoxtrot 101  2 months back

                Your editor deserves an Oscar

                • Aldo Raine
                  Aldo Raine  2 months back

                  Lol hey New York how do you like having no alleys? Lol. Plus the building henge sun thing isn't just a thing in new york.

                  • Aldo Raine
                    Aldo Raine  2 months back

                    You guys should cover Chicago's city plan. Urbs in Horto Magico.

                    • William Ceurvels
                      William Ceurvels  2 months back

                      "Without development you just have the sun, buildings make it worth looking at." Seriously?

                      • kid kurmudgeon
                        kid kurmudgeon  2 months back

                        grids are so intuitive, for people without a sense of direction like myself

                        • hank jones
                          hank jones  2 months back

                          I used to be confused as a kid watching movies and everyone's like 'it's two blocks that way'.

                          • first last
                            first last  2 months back

                            So what was so great about the other plan?

                            • The Cereal Guy
                              The Cereal Guy  2 months back


                              • Robert Perrett
                                Robert Perrett  2 months back

                                It must be hard to drive when the sun is setting and/or rising in New York City, trying to avoid looking at the sun while driving isn't fun, but annoying.

                                • Jeremy Weaver
                                  Jeremy Weaver  2 months back

                                  That was a terrible final sentence, before you answered the question.

                                  • rrbaggett7
                                    rrbaggett7  2 months back

                                    Excellent & fascinating, Phil! I frequently paused the video in order to zoom in to pore over the interesting maps & photos. Well done, young man!

                                    • Chris Licata
                                      Chris Licata  2 months back

                                      No mention of New Haven, CT the first grid city in North America which Philly got its idea from. Maybe first grid city ever, designed by John Davenport.

                                      • mahwahlax27
                                        mahwahlax27  2 months back

                                        Took you 6 minutes to say that they built manhattan on a grid because right-angled houses are cheaper.

                                      • Liz Paterson Gauntner
                                        Liz Paterson Gauntner  2 months back

                                        Could you do one on the grid in Ouagadougou?

                                        • Cheerios Gaming
                                          Cheerios Gaming  2 months back

                                          I enjoy every single vox video I click on but this ones my favorite

                                          • Bob Mwangi
                                            Bob Mwangi  2 months back

                                            I wish this was longer. There's so much to learn about New York. Make a part 2!😀

                                            • Daniel Epps
                                              Daniel Epps  2 months back

                                              Pittsburgh is just one big triangle. Everything ends downtown at the Point

                                              • helios396
                                                helios396  2 months back

                                                I used to get confused when in cop TV dramas set in New York the characters are always saying things like, "suspect was last seen between 15th street and 19th avenue" or something like that.

                                                I was like, New York uses numbers for street names? How boring...
                                                It does make finding addresses much much easier if you think about it.

                                                • FedoraMiaza
                                                  FedoraMiaza  2 months back

                                                  Hey Vox!
                                                  Can we please have a schedule from you for the different series you upload (Ex. Darkroom every X day or Almanac every Y day). Thankyou!

                                                  Btw, love your videos.

                                                  • Amanda Schwartz
                                                    Amanda Schwartz  2 months back

                                                    *laugs in Boston

                                                    • Sorabh Pant
                                                      Sorabh Pant  2 months back

                                                      Big deal. Mumbai is also a perfect grid. We just haven't lined the streets and roads in line yet.

                                                      • MrPittsburghJ
                                                        MrPittsburghJ  2 months back

                                                        Pretty funny, grids that is. Put a person from the east out to Las Vegas where it's pretty much all gridded and they get lost so easy.
                                                        Next, do DC. Masons might not let you dig too deep on that story.

                                                        • Mossy Cross
                                                          Mossy Cross  2 months back

                                                          This is my most favorite vox video and it just tells me the history of my own city and how it became what it is today

                                                          • Mossy Cross
                                                            Mossy Cross  2 months back

                                                            Tho i wish you guys can work on both Mta history and Landfill History of New York City ...... i thought of multiple ways to refine or restructure the whole system because its slow and inefficient compare to other citys and its not even clean let alone crime and Drug activity i just want a safe,clean happy city thats transportation has no delay

                                                        • Carmen XD
                                                          Carmen XD  2 months back

                                                          Grand Master La Vallette designed Valletta, Malta as a grid city in

                                                          • MechaMicro
                                                            MechaMicro  2 months back

                                                            That is what it called “Optimized city”

                                                            • DT
                                                              DT  2 months back

                                                              I had no idea I would be so fascinated by the history of how a city was planned and built. This was so cool!!!

                                                              • Dornelas Dinh
                                                                Dornelas Dinh  2 months back

                                                                I honestly wonder why your episodes feel unfinished...it always gives me the impression there's a part two to tie up the subject.

                                                                • Joy G
                                                                  Joy G  2 months back

                                                                  The buildings DO NOT make it worth looking at.

                                                                  • Starbucks Coffee
                                                                    Starbucks Coffee  2 months back

                                                                    FOUND YA LENNY

                                                                    • Ms. Daniela M. Delyusto
                                                                      Ms. Daniela M. Delyusto  2 months back

                                                                      "Road Trip"
                                                                      Nope, just a toll.

                                                                      • Chelsea Bennett
                                                                        Chelsea Bennett  2 months back

                                                                        Yikes, this just ruined everything I was taught in school. I was told that the grid system in America was to reflect the grid system in many UK towns. Parts of Whitehaven (in Cumbria where I live) are in this format. But I guess British colonialism teachings strikes againg

                                                                        • Laurence Kim
                                                                          Laurence Kim  2 months back

                                                                          i much prefer the nyc grid over the demented one way streets and circles of DC, but i also believe it is designed that way to control mobs of people in case a riot breaks out.

                                                                          • MH5tube
                                                                            MH5tube  2 months back

                                                                            is this the only time "Philadelphia" and "utopia" have ever been used in the same sentence

                                                                            • Marco Testolin
                                                                              Marco Testolin  3 months back

                                                                              Savannah home of the GOAT. Real ones know who I'm talking about...

                                                                              • Tracey Benna
                                                                                Tracey Benna  3 months back

                                                                                All business run off the network ! Meaning if something goes wrong on thier grid the whole business is ducked! It happens to banks! Or would be a shame if a computer nerd knocked you off the Grid

                                                                                • jef lafortune
                                                                                  jef lafortune  3 months back

                                                                                  Buildings make the sun worth looking at?

                                                                                  • Melchizedek Phuah Siow Jin

                                                                                    Very interesting. Thank you!

                                                                                    • Burn With Fire
                                                                                      Burn With Fire  3 months back

                                                                                      Manhattan's rejected city plan: bad
                                                                                      Jakarta and many other cities: *hold my blueprint*

                                                                                      • Love Charlotte
                                                                                        Love Charlotte  3 months back

                                                                                        you: stars circles and ovals add atmosphere to a city
                                                                                        me, an intellectual: grid system cheap, easy, make money fast

                                                                                        • ziair williams
                                                                                          ziair williams  3 months back

                                                                                          Philly.... you guys steal everything from us.

                                                                                          • Jhon Kenth Delfin
                                                                                            Jhon Kenth Delfin  3 months back

                                                                                            Can you make a video about the president of the Philippines?

                                                                                            Because he is sooooo cooolllll!!!

                                                                                            • Ramya Ranjan
                                                                                              Ramya Ranjan  3 months back

                                                                                              I think Barcelona as a city is more grid like 🤔.