Today marks the bicentennial of the Manhattan street grid system, a latice-work of streets created during a time when the city's population exploded and the streets needed to be ordered in a "regular way," according to NYU professor and curator of an upcoming museum exhibit, Hilary Ballon.
Ballon calls the Manhattan grid "a brilliant network." She's right. It's like an early form of a global positioning system: You can locate any spot in the city within a few feet.
Yet, why do I still get lost in the West Village after all of these years? That's all about "compromise," Ballon said. Unlike the northern part of the city where farms were present when the decision to create the grid was made, this part was settled and was simply incorporated into the new grid system.
"They encountered animosity and were attacked by tomatoes and pelted in other ways as they traversed people's lands," Ballon said. "They did not want their property cut up to make way for straight streets."
The surveyors would have certainly received more than rotten tomatoes hurled at them if they tried to make all the streets go east-west here because the lines would go right through homes.
Other developers and city officials in later years would not adhere so much to those concerns. I wonder what Robert Moses thought as he stood at the intersection of West 4th and West 13th Streets?