200th Birthday for the Map That Made New York

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Henry James condemned it a century ago as a “primal topographic curse.” Rem Koolhaas, the architect and urbanist, countered that its two-dimensional form created “undreamed-of freedom for three-dimensional anarchy.” More recently, two historians described its map, regardless of its flaws, as “the single most important document in New York City’s development.”

Two hundred years ago on Tuesday, the city’s street commissioners certified the no-frills street matrix that heralded New York’s transformation into the City of Angles — the rigid 90-degree grid that spurred unprecedented development, gave birth to vehicular gridlock and defiant jaywalking, and spawned a new breed of entrepreneurs who would exponentially raise the value of Manhattan’s real estate.

Today, debate endures about the grid, which mapped out 11 major avenues and 155 crosstown streets along which modern Manhattan would rise....

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