Manhattanism is the one urbanistic ideology that has fed, from its conception, on the splendors and miseries of the metropolitan condition—hyper-density—without once losing faith in it as the basis for a desirable modern culture.
What the Museum of the City of New York lacks in a memorable, rolls off your tongue kind of name, it makes up for with its current exhibition, The Greatest Grid: The Master Plan of Manhattan, 1811-2011 (hat tip to Smitha for the recommendation).
This is a must see for cartography geeks and anyone with a passing interest in how the city’s urban landscape came to be. They’ve extended the exhibition’s run through July 15th, so you have plenty of time to plan a visit. I was lucky enough to walk through the front doors 15 minutes before a presentation by the exhibit’s curator, Hilary Ballon, a Professor of Urban Studies & Architecture at NYU.
A sampling of what you’ll learn:
- Why the original planning commission rejected the models of European cities and where they looked to instead for inspiration
- Why the boundaries of the grid system were set at 14th St and 155th St
- The length to width ratio of a city block
- How lot sizes were determined
- Why certain streets—14th, 23rd, 34th, 42nd—are wider than the rest
- How Fourth Avenue became Park Avenue
- The story behind Broadway (contrary to popular myth, it’s not a holdover Indian trail)
- How the island’s “flow” evolved from an east-west orientation to an uptown-downtown vernacular
Make sure you leave time for the second floor gallery, which contains eight visions for the city’s future. The proposals span the gamut from “will happen” (a virtual grid overlaying the city’s physical infrastructure) to “we’ll see” (floating city blocks that extend onto the water).