Tuesday, March 22, 2011

These Streets Will Make You Feel Brand New

There's a great article in today's New York Times about the 200th anniversary of the city's no-frills street grid.  The piece describes, in a very balanced manner, how the grid spurred development in Manhattan but simultaneously enforced a "relentless monotony" on the city.  The article also does an excellent job putting the achievement in context:

“What I found absolutely remarkable,” said Hilary Ballon, an urban studies professor at New York University and curator of a future exhibition on the grid for the Museum of the City of New York, “was how the city had a commitment to executing this vision, which required a pretty significant transformation in how the city worked — a greater degree of governmental authority, changes in the taxation system to fund this road building, and a multigenerational commitment to its implementation.”

The wizards in the graphics department also came through with another exquisite infographic, which shows the original street plan and provides a chronology of street openings.  It's all worth your time.

Despite my praise for the article, I want to go on record with a strong dislike of the New York street grid.  I find it cold, and boring, and I think the blocks are too long (and kids, get off my lawn).  The standard Manhattan block is about 264 by 900 feet.  Contrast that to cozy Portland, where the blocks are only 260 by 260 feet.  Beyond the lengths of the blocks, I think that the irregular streets that define places like Cambridge and Manhattan's SoHo add to their character and increase real estate values.  There's a deep magic in being able to make four right hand turns and not end up in the same place.  Or maybe I'm just a sucker for the crazy street layout because I'm from Pittsburgh - a city where it's not uncommon for one street (say, Beechwood Blvd) to intersect with another street (say, Monitor) in three different places...

  Picture 2

Steve Clowney

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From the amazing timing department: I taught a unit on street layout and mapping in land use this week on the anniversary of the grid! It was very exciting. I always show this clip of Speed Levitch discussing the grid plan when I teach this class: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9awJCyjt550
The students love it.

Posted by: sarah | Mar 24, 2011 9:16:28 PM

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