City on a Grid: How New York Became New York by Gerard Koeppel

I became interested in urban planning after taking a course on it in college. So, I was intrigued when I received a copy of Gerard Koeppel’s City on a Grid.

The book is a fascinating look at urban planning (or lack thereof in some respects) from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries in America’s largest city – New York City. Koeppel goes into great detail on the origins of New York City’s grid network, including looking at the three men that had such an impact on the plan that was used to form the grid.

I especially like Koeppel’s comments on the reasons for the plan, which was to put the city’s streets into an order that did not exist. However, through that order, Koeppel convincingly argues that it sterilized the city because all geography was obliterated in favor of uniformity.

Koeppel includes stories on several crucial periods in New York’s development. For instance, after Central Park had been created, there were several attempts to either eliminate or reduce the size of the park. Thankfully for New Yorkers, those attempts came to naught.

In addition to the stories, another strength of the book is the discussion of the personalities who were pivotal to the creation of the grid and the development of it. For example, not only was Aaron Burr influential (for good and bad reasons) in the early United States, but he also had an influence with the grid due to his association with Joseph Mangin, an early city surveyor who helped in the initial plans for a grid. Koeppel includes many other stories of the persons who were the decision makers that shaped the grid.

City on a Grid is a masterful piece that explains the creation and evolution of New York City’s grid.

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