Why Manhattan's grid system is so damn awesome (video)

A comic, a professor of urban studies and architecture, a legendary street photographer and an astrophysicist walk into a blog* and explain why Manhattan's grid design is the shit.

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"Experience Manhattanhenge with Jackie Faherty"

"Experience Manhattanhenge with Jackie Faherty"


As you've probably noticed, we're doing a King Kong this week, (metaphorically) scaling the Empire State Building and beating our chest, all in the service of declaring why NYC is the greatest city in the world. Here's more on reason No. 2: Manhattan's grid.

As the Museum of the City of New York's 2011 exhibit "The Greatest Grid" detailed, the Commissioners' Plan of 1811 that proposed NYC's iconic rectilinear system resulted in many things: packaging real estate in easy-to-sell units that fueled the city's development and wealth, and establishing eminent domain as a tool for grand projects (um, yay?).

Here's Hilary Ballon, curator of the show and NYU professor of urban studies and architecture, with more.

Of course, the grid also makes Manhattan easy enough for any mouth-breather to navigate. In the next video, misanthrope Doug Stanhope appears on the British show Weekly Wipe to explain to the limeys why America is great.


He gets to grids at 2:38 in the clip. Hang in there for the comparison with London's layout. We'll come back to that; there may be a test at the end.



So we have how integral the grid was to NYC's development, and the fact that it makes the city gloriously easily to navigate, but—more than that—we say the layout of Manhattan has informed and reflected the pace and temper of its inhabitants.

In an illuminating series of interviews with Phaidon Press in October 2012, legendary New York street photographer Joel Meyerowitz—a man who has spent more time than most on the sidewalk—spoke of the effect of NYC's regimented layout in comparison to older cities, like London or Paris, which both grew out of an amalgamation of smaller communities.

Manhattan's streets, he says, “run for miles straight ahead and so the energy on the street is funneled this way. And when you participate in that, you become part of the energetic dimension of life on the streets. […] It's a modern experience."

Watch the whole sequence below, starting around the two-minute mark.

The design also results in two unique sights. First, there's the easily ignored vista along streets and avenues that stretches to the vanishing point. We recommend taking a ride on the Roosevelt Island Tram (rioc.com; $2.75) for a stunning elevated view of First Avenue reaching to the horizon.


Check it out in this video posted on Vimeo by Paul Sahner. The money shot is at 41 seconds.


And secondly, there's the quirk of Manhattanhenge, a biannual natural phenomenon where the sun sets in perfect alignment with the the grid, bathing both sides of the street in the waning sun's luminous glow.


This year, the full sun events happen on May 31 and July 12. To play you out, Neil deGrasse Tyson explains the event.


*We say walk into a blog, we embedded videos of them without their knowledge, but let's not split hairs.


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