How the Generational Need for Inexpensive Orderly Convenience Led to Manhattan’s Iconic Grid

In a geometric episode of Vox Almanac Road Trip Edition, host Phil Edwards explains how the city of Manhattan wound up with its now-iconic grid, a shape that easily lends itself really simple directions and the unique wonder of “Manhattanhenge”. As it turns out, the current design isn’t what city planners first had in mind, but the chaos of the 18th century led to a real need for a simple, inexpensive, and organized urban layout.

They decided that “right-angled houses are the most cheap to build and the most convenient to live in. The effect of these plain and simple reflections was decisive.” The grid did that without screwing up existing property-lines. It was predictable for developers. This was a different type of design. The grid seems orderly to us, but this order was in service of cheapness and efficiency. The city needed to build to keep going. What could be more New York than that?