Commissioners' Plan of 1811

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Image:Grid 1811.jpg
A modern redrawing of the 1807 version of the Commissioner's Grid plan for Manhattan, a few years before it was adopted in 1811.

The Commissioners' Plan of 1811 was a proposal by the New York State Legislature adopted in 1811 for the orderly development and sale of the land of Manhattan between 14th Street and Washington Heights. The plan is arguably the most famous use of the grid plan and is considered by most historians to have been far-reaching and visionary. Some have criticized what they consider its prototypical monotony in comparison with irregular street patterns of older cities.

The plan was formulated by a three-member commission made up of Gouverneur Morris, the lawyer John Rutherford, and the surveyor Simeon De Witt.

The plan called for a regular grid of streets and property lines without regard to the topography of the island itself. The plan called for sixteen numbered and lettered avenues running north and south roughly parallel to the shore of the Hudson River. In the middle part of the island, the avenues would begin with First Avenue on the east side and run through Twelfth Avenue in the west. In addition, in what is now known as the Lower East Side there would be four additional lettered avenues running from Avenue A eastward to Avenue D.

There would also be 155 orthogonal cross streets. The location of the cross streets was fixed as the boundaries of five-acre parcels into which the land had previously been divided. The basepoint for the cross streets was First Street: this was a short and inconspicuous street, which still exists, running from the intersection of Avenue B and Houston Street to the intersection of the Bowery and Bleecker Street.

Each avenue was to be one hundred feet (30 m) wide. The avenues in the center of the island were to be separated by 922 feet (281 m), and the avenues along the waterfront were to be slightly closer. The operating theory was that street frontage near the piers would be more valuable than the landlocked interior, the waterfront being the location of commerce and industry of the time, and so it would be to everyone's benefit to place avenues closer together at the island's edges.

The cross streets running east-west were to be only about 200 feet (61 m) apart, resulting in a grid of approximately 2000 long, narrow blocks. Taking the width of each street into account, there are exactly 20 blocks to a mile.

It should be noted that Central Park, the massive urban greenspace in Manhattan running from Eighth Avenue to Fifth Avenue and from 59th Street to 110th Street, is not a part of this plan, as Central Park was not envisioned until 1853. There were a few smaller interruptions in the grid, such as a park called the Parade between 23rd Street and 33rd Street.

The numbered street and avenue plan was eventually continued north of 155th Street. It was also continued into the Bronx: however, the grids on the east side and west side do not match up exactly, especially in the northern reaches of the borough. The numbered cross streets are divided into East and West at Fifth Avenue in Manhattan north of Washington Square Park and at Broadway south of the park (whose southern boundary is 4th Street.) In the Bronx, Jerome Avenue divides East and West crosstown streets.

Most of the numbered avenues have been officially renamed over part or all of their route: only 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 5th Avenues have never been renamed. Two additional avenues were interpolated amongst the original avenues: Madison Avenue was built between Fifth Avenue and Park Avenue (formerly Fourth Avenue), and Lexington Avenue was built between Park Avenue and Third Avenue. Several other avenues were added to the grid when Upper Manhattan was developed, such as Riverside Drive, Claremont Avenue and Saint Nicholas Avenue. The old Bloomingdale Road (which is pictured on the original 1811 map) became part of what is now known as Broadway.

The plan of numbered crosstown streets has survived for two centuries with only minor variations and irregularities, especially below the original 155th Street northern boundary. The most notable irregularities are in Harlem where West 125th and West 126th Streets go off on a diagonal to the north, and in the West Village where West 4th Street does the same.

In 1853, Central Park was laid out between 59th and 110th Streets and 5th and 8th Avenues. Other major interruptions of the 1811 plan include the main Columbia University campus in Morningside Heights, the Columbia University Medical Center campus in Washington Heights, Rockefeller Center (which is built on the site of an earlier Columbia campus), Times Square, Lincoln Center, Morningside Park, and the City College of New York.

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de:Commissioners’ Plan von 1811 fr:Commissioners' Plan de 1811 pt:Commissioners' Plan of 1811

Commissioners' Plan of 1811

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