Last week in Writing New York, we started talking about the grid plan and the effects that it had both on the material existence of the city and on its symbolic life. A grid plan for New York City was first proposed by a three-member commission consisting of the the surveyor Simeon De Witt, the politician Gouverneur Morris, and the lawyer John Rutherfurd. They were given the “exclusive power to lay out streets, roads, and public squares, of such width, extent, and direction, as to them shall seem most conducive to public good, and to shut up, or direct to be shut up, any streets or parts thereof which have been heretofore laid out… [but] not accepted by the Common Council.”

In the notes that accompanied their proposed map of the city, the commissioners declared

That one of the first objects which claimed their attention was the form and manner in which the business should be conducted; that is to say, whether they should confine themselves to rectilinear and rectangular streets, or whether they should adopt some of those supposed improvements by circles, ovals, and stars, which certainly embellish a plan, whatever may be their effect as to convenience and utility. In considering that subject they could not but bear in mind that a city is to be composed principally of the habitations of men, and that straight-sided and right-angled houses are the most cheap to build and the most convenient to live in. The effect of these plain and simple reflections was decisive.

Their plan was accepted by the state legislature in 1811. You can read the text of the report on this page from the website of the Cornell University Library.

One of our favorite commentaries on the effects of the grid is offered by Speed Levitch in the film The Cruise (1998). Click here to see what he has to say on YouTube.