Manhattan’s linearity is so prevalent, we often forget about it. But with its street grid, New York is surely the most rectilinear of the world’s great cities, free (for better or worse) of the meandering lanes of the older metropolises of Europe or Asia, not to mention the ancient byways of Jerusalem or Damascus. When the occasional street does manage to escape the grid—the diagonal slope of Stuyvesant Street in Greenwich Village, the menacing “bloody angle” of Doyers Street in Chinatown—there is a perverse fascination that that stray lane is able to escape the brutal, or maybe beautiful, imposition of urban geometry.

It was not always this way, as one is reminded by the excellent exhibition “The Greatest Grid: The Master Plan of Manhattan, 1811–2011.” The exhibition celebrates the two-hundredth anniversary of the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811, which laid out the city we know...


New to The New Criterion?

Subscribe for one year to receive ten print issues, and gain immediate access to our online archive spanning more than four decades of art and cultural criticism.

Popular Right Now