Gridlock—the word has become metaphorically indispensable in dealing with Washington as well as New York. But in the beginning was the grid, the Manhattan street pattern itself, laid out in 1811, whose 200th anniversary is commemorated with an exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York (MCNY), curated by architectural historian Hilary Ballon.
Not until the 1980s did the word “gridlock” come along, the exhibition tells us. Formally certified on March 22, 1811, the report of the “Commissioners of Streets and Roads in the City of New York” offered a plan its authors promised would “unite regularity and order with the Public convenience and benefit.” The ur-grid, the Commissioners’ Map, is on display as the centerpiece of the show.
Or the absent block of 11th Street at Broadway where James Renwick’s Grace Church sits. The grid is also the basis of Manhattan architecture, providing unconscious, de facto specs for builders. The grid’s champions praise the architectural creativity it has engendered. Its critics condemn the grid as generating architectural mediocrity and providing few public spaces and structures.