City on a Grid

How New York Became New York


By Gerard Koeppel

Formats and Prices




$28.99 CAD



  1. Trade Paperback $21.99 $28.99 CAD
  2. ebook $11.99 $15.99 CAD

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around April 4, 2017. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

Winner of the 2015New York City Book Award

The never-before-told story of the grid that ate Manhattan

You either love it or hate it, but nothing says New York like the street grid of Manhattan. This is its story.

Praise for City on a Grid

“The best account to date of the process by which an odd amalgamation of democracy and capitalism got written into New York’s physical DNA.”–New York Times Book Review

“Intriguing…breezy and highly readable.”–Wall Street Journal

City on a Grid tells the too little-known tale of how and why Manhattan came to be the waffle-board city we know.”–The New Yorker

“[An] expert investigation into what made the city special.”Publishers Weekly

“A fun, fascinating, and accessible read for those curious enough to delve into the origins of an amazing city.”–New York Journal of Books

“Koeppel is the very best sort of writer for this sort of history.”–Roanoke Times


They were like children, to whom repetition is more pleasing than variations or novelty.

—Jorge Luis Borges, 1971

Though New Yorkers sometimes think urbanity began with them, grids are nothing new, nor are the arguments pro and con. On the plus side, grids use space efficiently, distribute property equitably, can be extended indefinitely, are simple to draw and build, and are easy to control militarily. On the negative side, grids ignore natural topography, impose conformity of building alignment and shape, neglect the travel efficiencies of radials and the beauty of radials and curvilinears, and are dull and ugly generally. Modern negatives of the dense, unbroken urban grid include congestion and environmental issues of limited light, air, green space, and natural drainage, and poor solar energy siting.

Few of these concerns were relevant in the oldest urban grid we know a bit about, at Mohenjo-daro, founded nearly 5,000 years ago and abandoned a thousand years later in what is now Pakistan. Possibly the most important among numerous Indus Valley cities, Mohenjo-daro when it flourished covered roughly 750 acres and was home to 40,000 people. After it was rediscovered less than a hundred years ago, the first excavations suggested to archaeologists that the city was laid on an extensive rectilinear grid, aligned north-south and east-west. More recently, scholars have confirmed only some straight, rectilinear streets, ranging in width from twenty to thirty feet, and many more irregular streets. Whether or not Mohenjo-daro was "the birthplace of the grid" is an ongoing debate for others. For our purposes, Mohenjo-daro means only that Manhattan had a precursor whose streets were shaped at least in part like its own as long as 5,000 years ago, an important city that flourished and was abandoned when its culture, for as yet unknown reasons, died.

Other cities in later civilizations certainly had rectilinear street grids, but the continuous record to us begins, as usual, in Greece. It is generally believed that the urban grid in what we call the Western world debuted at the ancient Greek city of Miletus circa 479 BC. First settled three millennia earlier as Aegean islands, Miletus in its heyday was a manufacturing and trading center on a peninsula, thanks to lowered sea levels and extensive silting of its deep bay. (That process has continued: for the past half millennium Miletus has been inland Turkish ruins.) Native son Hippodamus earned his town's place in the urban planning hall of fame by planning and assembling its center with a rectilinear street grid, a concept he did not invent but probably knew or heard of from previous, now lost examples. After giving Miletus its tight, regular grid, the reputed "father of urban planning" did the same for Piraeus, Rhodes, and other Greek cities.

Much of what we know about Hippodamus and his planning activities we know from Aristotle, who followed Hippodamus by a century. Aristotle agreed with Hippodamus that cities should be planned but, unlike Hippodamus, he believed that planning should incorporate more than just one form.

The arrangement of private houses is considered to be more agreeable and generally more convenient, if the streets are regularly laid out after the modern fashion which Hippodamus introduced, but for security in war the antiquated mode of building, which made it difficult for strangers to get out of a town and for assailants to find their way in, is preferable. A city should therefore adopt both plans of building: it is possible to arrange houses irregularly, as husbandmen plant their vines in what are called "clumps." The whole town should not be laid out in straight lines, but only certain quarters and regions; thus security and beauty will be combined.

Unlike Hippodamus and, as we shall see, Manhattan's grid planners, Aristotle grasped beauty's integral importance to a city.

Regardless, like long linear streets seeking the horizon, the "Hippodamian plan" spread through the urbanizing ages, especially and most significantly throughout the Roman Empire. Gridded military camps evolved into rectilinear colonial cities, far-flung symbols of order and subjugation.

Medieval European cities generally started differently, without grids and inside defensive walls. As European cities matured—destroyed or devastated by fire, flood, warfare, or disease, and then rebuilt and repopulated, again and again—many emerged with modern plans that seem like evolved forms of the original: the old city as nucleus, the new city beyond the originally confining walls as expanding organism. Amsterdam, Paris, Karlsruhe, and other cities expanded slowly but with increasingly planned growth, generally under the orders of autocratic rulers. Often located on plains, these cities radiated from their core, spreading over readily available land with artificial boundaries instead of natural borders. Nowhere in the flowering of European cities was the planning choice an unbroken, rectilinear grid. But then, nowhere was a major European city confined to a long, narrow island.

"We Europeans live on the myth of the large city we constructed during the nineteenth century," observed Sartre, who understood modern cities as well as any professional urbanist. "The Americans' myths are not ours and the American city isn't our city." The round cities of Spain, Italy, Germany, and France produced a particularly European dynamism. "Streets run into other streets. They are closed at each end and do not seem to lead out of the city. Inside them, you go round in circles. They are more than mere arteries: each one is a social milieu. These are streets where you stop, meet people, drink, eat and linger . . . They are alive with a communal spirit that changes each hour of the day." This is not gridded Manhattan.

As the grid was attractive to Roman conquerors, so too was it the choice of Spanish colonialists in the New World, making (or remaking native) cities under the evolving town planning prescriptions of the Laws of the Indies. Lima was the herald of American hemisphere grid building, laid out in 1535 with a rectilinear grid of blocks 400 feet square and streets forty feet wide. The Spanish had a sense of style, though: within Lima's original thirteen-by-nine-block grid was a large square with a fountain in the middle ringed by the major government and religious buildings. The Spanish built this way from Buenos Aires to Mexico: order with beauty. Santa Fe and Albuquerque, founded in the early 1600s and 1700s, respectively, in what is now New Mexico, are Laws of the Indies cities. So is Los Angeles, the current downtown of which was founded in the 1780s at a mandated invasion-safe distance from the sea and along a river, with a rectilinear grid a bit off (at thirty-six degrees) from the mandated forty-five-degree axis, which pointed the corners of the central square at the cardinal points of the compass.

Most Dutch and early English colonial cities in what became the United States were founded on no particular plan, just a random sprawl from the waterfront. New Amsterdam and Boston are the most prominent examples; while New York eventually straightened itself out, Boston couldn't be bothered. Its streets "simply grew with the population," scolded the Engineering News in 1891: "They are very irregular, running in all directions and totally without system, and as a rule are narrow and unsuited to the demands of modern civilization." Somehow, Boston, the jumbled incarnation of true believer John Winthrop's ideal "city on a hill," has survived.

Against New York and Boston are Philadelphia and Savannah, gridded cities by the original design of a founding individual, established in the 1680s and 1730s, respectively. William Penn's "green country town" was the first grid in English America, but its 400-foot blocks, intended as an antidote to haphazard London's congestion, proved too large for urban living in modest houses: over time a patchwork of smaller streets intervened. James Oglethorpe's Savannah had a tight grid of much smaller blocks, leading to a different problem: development that remained small-scale, which today makes Savannah charming but passive. Still, what both grids had in common was variation: in street widths and the placement of public squares and park space. In each plan, the developer was concerned as much with form as function.

Whatever softness Penn and Oglethorpe were seeking in their grid designs, in the broader scheme of things, when the colonies became a nation rectilinear became the rule and nature became the exception. It started with the territory west of the original colonies that the new nation began to acquire immediately after the Revolution, initially westward-stretching land ceded by the former colonies to the new national government.

Generally, the first boundaries of unmapped terrain are rivers, lakes, mountains, or valleys. Not so in the new United States. In 1784, the Continental Congress decided that new states (when the land was formally obtained in whatever manner from the natives) would be rectangular, two degrees of latitude—120 miles—tall, width to be determined. The northern and southern boundaries would be surveyors' straight lines, not the earth's natural features; often enough, the eastern and western boundaries would be as well. In 1785, starting with the Northwest Territory, Congress decided that the best way to settle these lands quickly—in order to generate much-needed revenue and discourage squatters and their rights—was to divide everything up into rectangles: from "open" land into townships six miles square into sections one mile square and ultimately down to lots 60 by 125 feet.

Under the extraordinary Land Ordinance of 1785, the first Geographer of the United States, Thomas Hutchins, started work where Pennsylvania met Virginia at the Ohio River. Hutchins was pretty much overmatched for the task, even in the relatively flat portions of Ohio, but rudimentary tools, drunken assistants, and native attacks didn't help. After three years, he completed only seven columns of thirty-six-mile-wide ranges. The results were more like an approximation of the accuracy needed. The first sales, at auctions in New York City in 1787, were equally disappointing. Still, the shape of the future had been seen. Rectangles large and small would come to dominate the American landscape. In a sense, rectangles are the American landscape that Americans have fit themselves into. As surveying historian Bill Hubbard Jr. writes, in much of the country "the boundaries were drawn before the cultural patterns arose. Before anybody had a sense of what it meant to be a Nebraskan and what Nebraskans might share in common, there was a place marked on maps with clear borders called Nebraska." This is also true of Philadelphia and Savannah: there were no Philadelphians or Savannahans before their developers created them.

Whether created from empty flatland by developers or imposed by early settlers inspired by the Rectangular Survey, Philadelphia, or New York, it's no surprise that rectilinear grids are the framework of most American cities, from Miami to Anchorage, from Sacramento to Erie, Pennsylvania, in all (rectangular) block shapes and sizes. As Lewis Mumford lamented:

If the older cities of the seaboard were limited in their attempts to become metropolises by the fact that their downtown sections were originally laid out for villages, the villages of the middle west labored under just the opposite handicap; they had frequently acquired the framework of a metropolis before they had passed out of the physical state of a village. The gridiron plan was a sort of hand-me-down which the juvenile city was supposed to grow into and fill.

The most popular grid size seems to have been the 300-by-300-foot block, with sixty- to eighty-foot-wide streets; this was the original grid pattern of Missoula, Bismarck, Phoenix, Tulsa, Mobile, and Anchorage, among others. Carson City, Nevada, claims the smallest urban grid, a mere 180-foot square with sixty-foot streets. Perhaps this tight pattern served well for shootouts during its Wild West days. By far the largest grid in the nation (and probably in the world) is Salt Lake City, with 600-foot-square blocks—ten acres!—surrounded by 120-foot-wide streets, reputedly the turning dimension of a Mormon oxcart.

Manhattan's largest blocks are half the area of Salt Lake City's and their average size is fairly normal, but the ratio of length to width is beyond all other urban measure. The 1811 grid's east-west dimensions are far larger than Salt Lake's, while the 200-foot north-south lengths are barely larger than Carson City's. While New York's grid brought order to the place, it also made it a place of extremes.

"Theyr streets are Nasty & unregarded," snorted Boston doctor Benjamin Bullivant. He was visiting New York in 1697. Generations of residents and visitors before and after, dodging hogs and goats and their evacuations, agreed.

New Amsterdam, established in the 1620s at the southern tip of Manhattan as a fur trading outpost of the Dutch West India Company, was not a pretty place: its existence was commercial, its dirt or badly cobbled streets were haphazardly laid, mostly narrow, crooked, and ill-maintained. Few if any of the eventually 1,500 New Amsterdam residents much cared. Most were strivers for profit and survival at the frontier of European civilization. Many were traders, some were pirates and privateers, not a few were slaves, prostitutes, brewers, farmers, carpenters, bakers, tailors, blacksmiths, or sailors. They practiced many religions and spoke many languages. They built their eventually three hundred or so houses (and many taverns) of wood harvested from the island's ample forests and brick that arrived as ships' ballast. Household waste, by law to be collected and dumped outside of town or in the tide-flushed rivers, in practice mingled with animal waste in the streets.

Of the eventually dozen nasty New Amsterdam streets, most materialized the natural way: in service to where people chose to build homes, that is, on nothing like a plan. There were exceptions. At a natural inlet on the east side of town, the Dutch company characteristically dug a long canal that nearly bisected the entire town, allowing access at high tide by small boats, with roadways on either side. The canal was later filled in; it became and remains Broad Street. Intersecting "the Ditch," as it was called, was a shorter canal draining off a stream-fed marsh; it later became and remains Beaver Street. The main street, on the west side of town, was the Heere Straat, the high street that in time led up the island's spine as Broadway.

Civic virtue was yet unborn in 1664 when his merchant subjects compelled peevish governor Peter Stuyvesant to surrender the Dutch company town to an English fleet without a disruptive fight. The subsequent English century spawned a greater sense of urban purpose, but the town expanded slowly up Manhattan on no unified plan, with no model or style, unlike elegant rival Philadelphia. New York had no aspirational founder like William Penn.

Like Philadelphia, New York grew between rivers, on land that passed mostly peacefully on a similar timeframe from Lenape to Dutch to English occupation and control. Unlike Philadelphia, with its lovely grid of varied densities, broad central streets, and open squares, New York had a jumble of old pathways and new streets laid according to the whims of the owners of the land beneath them, with nothing like a proper public boulevard or square of urban celebration. The lullaby of Broadway was far off.

By the late 1600s the defining longitudinal roadways of the island, growing out of native paths, were taking shape: the Albany Post Road comprising various segments that eventually became Broadway on the west, the Eastern (or Boston) Post Road comprising various segments on the other side. Within the settled city proper, New York gained legal control of its current and future streets in 1686 under its second charter, bearing the name of provincial governor Thomas Dongan. The city's first English charter, of 1665, had established an English-style municipal government of mayor, aldermen, and sheriff but did not address streets, among many other subjects. The Dongan Charter reorganized the government as a Common Council of mayor and recorder (the chief legal officer), both annually appointed by the governor, and aldermen and assistants, annually elected by each ward (originally six, eventually two dozen). This basic structure continued through the 1800s, modified over time with longer terms and direct elections of the mayor and recorder. Among other things, the Dongan Charter gave the Council "full power . . . to establish, appoint, order, and direct the establishing, making, laying out, ordering, amending and repairing of all streets, lanes, alleys [and] highways . . . in and throughout the . . . city of New York and Manhattan's Island . . . necessary, needful and convenient for the inhabitants . . . and for all travellers [sic] and passengers there."

The only vague check on this broad power was that it could not be exercised if it took away any person's property without consent or "by some known law" of the province. Five years later, a new law authorizing the Common Council to appoint a surveyor to regulate buildings, streets, and docks specified that the value of any private ground taken by the city for public streets was to be fairly assessed and paid to its owner. "This was a noble provision," observed legal scholar James Kent, "and much better than the check on corporate authority contained in the charter." Thus was established in New York the principle that private property can't be taken for public use without just compensation.

This "noble" control of the city's streets was continued in the charter signed by Governor John Montgomerie in 1731. The landmark Montgomerie Charter, merging and greatly expanding the various provisions of the important Dongan Charter of 1686 and the lesser Cornbury Charter of 1708, guided New York up to and beyond the Revolution, so effectively that its form and spirit were largely retained in the state constitutions of 1777 and 1821 and intervening laws were based on it.

As with many aspects of municipal life, the 1731 charter was clear about the city's once and future streets. The Common Council would "have full power . . . not only to establish, appoint, order and direct, the making and laying out of all other streets, lanes, alleys [and] highways . . . not already made or laid out, but also the altering, amending and repairing" of them. As before, per legislative statute, the taking of private land required compensation, and the city could apply to the legislature for laws that clarified or expanded the city's power consistent with the general intent of the charter. Five times during the colonial years (in 1741, 1751, 1754, 1764, and 1774) acts were passed regarding Council authority over roads on the island and streets in the city, while a 1787 law (under the 1777 state constitution) conferred substantial powers on the Common Council as commissioners of highways.

So there's a long history of the colonial and early American city being empowered to control its streets. The history of the city actually exercising that power is much shorter. In fact, there really isn't much history until 1807. The Common Council was annually elected, subject to substantial turnover, unsupported by any standing bureaucracy, and thus admittedly shortsighted in most matters. It was perennially uncertain if it needed provincial or (later) state legislation or could act on its own to construct public streets or close privately made ones. Indeed, on practically all important matters, the Council habitually doubted its charter rights even though they contained, in Kent's view, "a grant of ample powers, sufficient for all the purposes of . . . the good government of the city in its complicated concerns."

In practice, when the city wanted to exercise an important power, it went to the state for explicit permission in the form of a law. The city was the state's oldest child but it behaved like a timid adolescent, asking permission to use the car when it had a set of keys in its pocket. Regarding the streets themselves, the city rarely troubled the state. The Council was content to let landowners make streets and then do its best to regulate and clean them. "It is a matter of considerable surprise," observed the exasperated official nominally in charge of the city's streets in 1806, that the city had "made use of so little coercion" for so long "that individuals even at this period continue to project their streets in their own way and dispute with the Common Council upon their uncontroulable right to do so."

While the city effectively ceded its street-making rights for generations to private owners who generally laid streets on their lands as they chose, some owners did have good design sense. Harnessing the natural tendency of humans to proceed from randomness to order, Trinity Church in the early 1750s laid out a portion of its wedge of land between Broadway and the Hudson River into a small neighborhood of several rectangular blocks around its newly chartered King's College, at the town's then suburban fringe between Barclay and Murray Streets, west of Church Street. This marked the birth of both a great school (now Columbia University) and the idea of rectilinear planning on Manhattan. And this little grid was to feature another first: the first First—that is, the first Manhattan street named 1st Street. And a 2nd Street and a 3rd Street, all running north-south on lines that today are where Greenwich, Washington, and (just east of) West Streets run. The thing is, though, these numbered streets were never laid. They appeared on a plan, but the plan imagined Hudson River landfill that didn't happen until New York was American, by which time the original plan had been abandoned.

Manhattan's first actual 1st Street in an actual grid, featuring a half dozen numbered streets, came into existence a bit later as part of what could be called Manhattan's first rectilinear land development. On the other side of the island from the college, the powerful DeLancey family decided to put their 340-acre estate to work in the 1760s, beginning with the layout of streets in the southwestern part of their property. Their plan centered on a spacious square bearing the family name, with 1st through 6th Streets running north-south and forming a grid with several cross streets. The DeLanceys had little time to develop their property, though. Being royalists, they were forced into exile after the Revolution and their land was confiscated by New York State. In subdividing the estate for sale, the state Commissioners of Forfeiture left the DeLancey grid but eliminated the grand square by running Grand Street through it. To avoid the confusion of numbered streets running north-south after the 1811 grid was announced, all of the DeLancey numbered streets were eventually given names, all of them but Orchard for War of 1812 dead, none of them particularly distinguished: Chrystie, Forsythe, Eldridge, Allen, and Ludlow, the major north-south routes of the modern Lower East Side.

This highly accurate map of 1767 New York by British army officer Bernard Ratzer conveys the beginnings of pre-grid rectilinear order, along the Hudson River in the vicinity of Columbia College and, most importantly, the suburban development newly laid out around a great square by the DeLancey family. Compare with the 1796 map on page 19. (Library of Congress)

Just after the Revolution, another landowning family developed a second grid, again with numbered north-south streets. Unlike the DeLanceys, the Bayards were patriots and prominent locals from way back: Judith Bayard was Peter Stuyvesant's wife; they emigrated from Holland to New Amsterdam in 1647 with his widowed sister Ann Stuyvesant Bayard, who had been married to Judith's brother, and her four children. Ann's son Nicholas, benefitting greatly from the patronage of Stuyvesant and others, established a farm that eventually spread to hundreds of acres between what is now Canal and West 3rd Streets, from the Bowery to Sixth Avenue, including modern Soho, Noho, and the southern reaches of Greenwich Village. After the Revolution, Broadway was extended north through the farm, sundering it east and west. The western portion was a hundred entirely undeveloped acres that presented opportunities—necessary ones, in that the financial disruptions of the war had compelled Nicholas Bayard III to raise cash through a heavy mortgage on the property, which had been much abused by the city's defensive military works.

In 1788, the Bayards hired Casimir Goerck (much more about him later) to survey and lay out West Farm into real estate: the hundred acres was converted to thirty-five whole or partial blocks within seven east-west and eight north-south streets in a convenient rectilinear grid (with irregular edges where the Bayards' property met others'). All of the Bayard streets survive and in their original locations, some widened from their original fifty feet. All of their original names are gone but one, named for Nicholas III's daughter Mary's husband, a prominent Georgian named William Houstoun. Time has made off with his ultimate vowel, but not the "HOW-stun" pronunciation that eludes tourists. Like those of the DeLancey grid, the north-south streets were numbered, in this case from 1st through 8th, but they had a very short run as numbered streets. Within a decade or so, the numbers had been exchanged for names, in this case those of mostly high-ranking Revolutionary War officers: Mercer, Greene, Wooster, Laurens (now LaGuardia), Thompson, Sullivan, MacDougal, and Hancock (now a short stretch of Sixth Avenue). But the Bayard Farm grid remains as today's Soho, with blocks from 350 to 500 feet long on the north-south axis, and a uniform 200 feet wide.

This 1868 redrawing of Casimir Goerck's 1788 gridding of the Bayard West Farm shows the transition of its north–west streets from numbers to the names of modern Soho and the original subdivision of its blocks into twenty-five-by-one-hundred-foot lots, a sizing that was not part of the 1811 Commissioners' Plan but would naturally evolve within its block dimensions. (Museum of the City of New York)

There was something else about the numbered, rectilinear Bayard Farm grid. Its blocks were subdivided by plan into some 1,200 lots, typically with eight lots on the narrow north and south ends of each block, and from six to twelve lots along the east and west middles. Do the math and that makes the typical Bayard lot twenty-five feet wide and one hundred feet deep. While twenty-five-foot-wide lots already existed in Manhattan (more about that later), the twenty-five-by-one-hundred-foot lot as a subdivision within a rectilinear street grid, the dominant lot size of gridded Manhattan, debuted on the Bayards' West Farm.


  • Kirkus Reviews, 8/15/15
    "For Manhattanites, surely, and for anyone who's visited and been either charmed or overwhelmed by the grid.”

  • Library Journal, 9/18/15
    “Readers curious about the growth of infrastructure in large city centers will definitely be interested in Koeppel's take.”

  • Manhattan User's Guide, 11/11/15
    “Makes the clear-cut case that—whether you like the grid or not—it has more daily impact on millions of people than almost any other urban plan you can name.”

  • New York Journal of Books, 12/1/15
    “A fascinating and curious story that takes us back through time to the early beginnings of the city…It is also a drama that delves into the lives and travails of the original surveyors…who mapped the island and saw it not for the city that it was, but the metropolis that it would become…A well-researched ambitious tale of intrigue intertwined with political significance…Koeppel tantalizes with little known facts…A fun, fascinating, and accessible read for those curious enough to delve into the origins of an amazing city.”

  • David Duchovny, actor, author, native New Yorker
    "I've spent most of my life walking the straight lines of the world's greatest city and have never thought to ask: Is this a different shape from other cities, and if so, why, and who did it? Koeppel's book answers these questions, in an easygoing, good-humored manner, with interesting facts unearthed on nearly every page. This is one of those books you always wished would be written, and here it is. Indispensable for anyone interested in the history of New York and cities generally, and bound to fuel cocktail conversations up, down, and across the city for years to come."

  • Justin Martin, author of books about a pair of New York eminences, Walt Whitman and Frederick Law Olmsted
    "If Manhattan has a subconscious, it's the angular numbered street plan that, for two centuries, has informed the island's destiny. Koeppel does a masterful job of telling the little-known story behind this humble yet hallowed grid. Along the way, he introduces a vivid cast of characters and spins some lively anecdotes. A thoroughly enjoyable read, and one that will cause you to view Manhattan with fresh eyes."

  • Washington Book Review, 1/5/16
    “Koeppel explains the history of New York like nobody has done before…A fascinating and unique read…A must read for every New Yorker and anyone who loves New York.”

  • New York Times Book Review, 1/10/16
    “The best account to date of the process by which an odd amalgamation of democracy and capitalism got written into New York's physical DNA.”

  • New York Times, 12/13/15
    “Prodigiously researched…Koeppel [is] an engaging storyteller.”

  • Publishers Weekly, 9/14/15
    “A look at the story behind the development of New York City's extraordinary 1811 street grid plan, which 'defined the urbanism of a rising city and nation.'…[An] expert investigation into what made the city special…Koeppel's bold commentary on the constant evolution of Gotham may stir controversy in some quarters, but he unabashedly celebrates the metropolis that has never learned what it means to grow old or stale.”

  • The New Yorker, 10/5/15
    "Tells the too little-known tale of how and why Manhattan came to be the waffle-board city we know."

  • Wall Street Journal, 12/13/15
    “Koeppel's ventures into early-19th-century political malfeasance are intriguing…[His] narrative is breezy and highly readable.”
  • Kate Ascher, author of The Works: Anatomy of a City
    "Rarely does one come across a book that makes you rethink the city you thought you knew.... Koeppel's masterful story-telling does that and more."
  • "An accessible narrative on the development of New York's grid plan, tailored primarily for a popular, rather than strictly academic, audience...but it will also be of interest to scholars working in the fields of urban historical geography, urban planning history, and the history of cartography."
    Historical Geography
  • "A fascinating look at urban planning...A masterful piece that explains the creation and evolution of New York City's grid."—Collected Miscellany
  • "Koeppel's book is engaging, entertaining, highly informative, and will be useful to both long-time residents and first-time visitors. It is also copiously and precisely documented, greatly aiding further research into the innumerable details of the city."—Reviews in American History

On Sale
Apr 4, 2017
Page Count
336 pages
Da Capo Press

Gerard Koeppel

About the Author

Gerard Koeppel is the author of Water for Gotham, Bond of Union, and City on a Grid. He has contributed to numerous other books, including the Encyclopedia of New York City, of which he was an associate editor. He was an editor for many years at CBS News. He lives in New York City.

Learn more about this author