What if Manhattan were without a grid plan? A digital design class at Columbia University has stripped the city of its organization, and replaced the street grid system with the grand boulevards of Paris. (There are some early city planners spinning in their graves, just at the thought.) Untapped New York takes a look at this work by Charles-Antoine Perrault, who explains he "covered Manhattan with Paris Left Bank streets. You might recognize Gare Montparnasse on the right and the Invalides in the top left corner. Pretty fun to imagine New Yorkers lost in Manhattan without their grid!” Another student, Alex Wallach, channeled the concept and then superimposed Paris onto the famous 1807 Commisioners’ street grid plan.
To help get us back to reality, the NYPL has created a Google map titled, Designing the City of New York: The Commissioners' Plan of 1811. The interactive map allows you to click on the points, lines and shapes to view more information about the urban design history of this city, including how Manhattan got its urban grid design (and of course, where all the good coffee houses were back then).
The short of it: New York City’s Common Council (the City Council of its time) assigned three men—statesman Gouverneur Morris, surveyor John Rutherfurd, and New York State Surveyor General Simeon De Witt—as the “Commissioners of Streets and Roads." They began work in 1807 and spent four years "developing a plan that would meet the Common Council’s stated goal of 'laying out Streets... in such a manner as to unite regularity and order with the public convenience and benefit and in particular to promote the health of the City.'" Of course, even their plan got tweaked a little (hello, Central Park!).