Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Mapping New York's Future 200 Years Ago

Sam Roberts in the New York Times writes on the 200th birthday for the certification by city commissioners of a map by John Randel which subdivided Manhattan island into a two dimensional street grid with rectangular plots on which modern Manhattan arose.

The grid was the great leveler. By shifting millions of cubic yards of earth and rock, it carved out modest but equal flat lots (mostly 25 by 100 feet) available for purchase. And if it fostered what de Tocqueville viewed as relentless monotony, its coordinates also enabled drivers and pedestrians to figure out where they stood, physically and metaphorically.

“This is the purpose of New York’s geometry,” wrote Roland Barthes, the 20th-century French philosopher. “That each individual should be poetically the owner of the capital of the world.” 

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