Monday, July 23, 2018

Why New York Deviates from the North

Geoff Boeing's Comparing City Street Orientations has led to a trend of people mapping out the street grid orientations of cities around the world. It also inspired the amazing Streets Orientations Mapbox map, which allows you to instantly create a street orientation compass rose for any location in the world.

One trend that becomes apparent after looking at so many of these street orientation visualizations from around the world is how many cities are laid out on a grid pattern based on the cardinal compass directions. So many cities are laid out with streets running north-south and west-east. Except New York. New York deviates from the north by nearly 29 degrees.

New York's grid was devised in the 1811 plan. In 1807 the New York state legislature appointed Gouverneur Morris, John Rutherfurd, and Simeon De Witt to devise an orderly street plan for Manhattan. So began the formation of New York's grid street plan.

Part of the purpose of the new map of New York, as the New York City Council stated, was "laying out Streets... in such a manner as to unite regularity and order". This is how New York became the orderly and restrained city that we love today. The Interactive 1811 Plan allows you to explore an original map of the 1811 plan overlaid on top of a modern map of New York. In this geo-rectified map you can clearly see how the city was laid out so that the avenues run parallel with the city's rivers, tilting to the northeast, rather than being aligned with true north.

If you click on the 'Key Features' button at the top of the Interactive 1811 Plan you can explore some of the decisions made in devising the 1911 plan. For example, decisions made about the width of New York's streets, the length and width of blocks, the limited provision of parks and the numbering system of New York's roads.

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