The Omnibus Roundup – 200 Years of the Grid, Census Results, League Prize and Waste-to-Energy

The Commissioners#39; Plan of 1811 provisional map, released in 1807 | via Wikimedia Commons

The Commissioners’ Plan of 1811 provisional map, released in 1807 | via Wikimedia Commons

This week marks the bicentennial of the Manhattan grid system, introducing the 90-degree, angular streetscape we know today. The grid reveals priorities of a 19th century New York, and this bicentennial offers a unique moment for urban enthusiasts to explore and understand the ideas behind 11 major avenues and 155 crosstown streets laid out in 1811.

The creation of the grid is lauded for introducing long, standardized, narrow blocks and responsible for shaping lots and blocks for facilitating real estate demands, breaking up traditionally large estate parcels. It has also been criticized for many of the pedestrian and traffic issues of Manhattan today — the narrow, pre-automobile streets gave rise to the term “gridlock.”

The significant lack of open space — only two areas included in the 1811 map, the ‘wide green’ or ‘Parade’ (Central Park came in 1850) and a future market — perhaps reflects the grid’s expected reliance on waterborne transportation and a clean, accessible riverside. In the words of William Bridges:

“It may to many be a matter of surprise that so few vacant spaces have been left, and those so small, for the benefit of fresh air and consequent preservation of health. Certainly if the City of New York was destined to stand on the side of small streams such as the Seine or the Thames, a great number of ample places might be needful. But those large arms of the sea which embrace Manhattan island render its situation in regard to health and pleasure as well to the convenience of commerce, peculiarly felicitous.”
Remarks of the Commissioners for Laying Out Streets and Roads in the City of New York under the Act of April 3, 1807

In light of growing discussion over sea level rise and more recent attention given to developing both the built and recreational waterside ‘sixth borough’ in Vision 2020, New York City’s new Comprehensive Waterfront Plan, it is a timely comparison to note 19th century New York’s reliance on the waterfront as major open space and city government’s renewed interest in reviving New York’s waterways. To see other visual representations of the grid and Manhattan’s visual history, check out these beautiful posters on the grid’s birthday.

For in-depth coverage, see the New York Times‘ look at the grid’s birthday featuring an interactive map comparing John Randel’s 1811 map with today’s streets. Also, see Cornell Library’s original text from the Comissioners’ Plan of 1811 when the map was introduced.

Series of screen grabs from WNYC#39;s Interactive Map on 2010 Census Data

Series of screen grabs from WNYC’s Interactive Map on 2010 Census Data

The Census 2010 numbers were released yesterday, and according to the findings, the city grew only 2.1% since 2000 (166,855 people). Mayor Bloomberg is particularly bewildered by the results in Queens, saying yesterday “For example, the Census Bureau determined the population of Queens increased by only 1,300 people…Think about that — 1,300 people over 10 years. I’m not criticizing them, but it doesn’t make any sense.” Other city politicians are anxious about the impact of potential underreporting. Scott Stringer called the numbers “preposterous” adding that “the impact of this undercounting has severe ramifications for the city, when it comes to redistricting and the distribution of crucial social services to those most in need.” According to the Census, Brooklyn only grew by 1.6 percent (to 2,504,700 people) in the past decade while Manhattan reportedly grew by 3.2 (to 1,585,873 people).

The New York Times highlights some significant findings: the number of black New Yorkers has declined 5 percent since 2000, Non-Hispanic blacks now make up 23 percent of the population, the number of Asians increased 32 percent, passing the one million mark (now 13 percent of the population), the Hispanic population rose 8 percent and now 29 percent of the total, and Non-Hispanic whites registered a 3 percent decline, or 31,649 people (compared with a drop of nearly 362,000 during the 1990s) — the smallest decrease in a half-century of white flight. They now constitute 33 percent of the population. Manhattan and Brooklyn accounted for the only counties in the country with a million or more people where the white share of the population rose.

For a detailed report on Census numbers see here, and see WNYC’s coverage and interactive map on the Census data.

It#39;s DifferentSome in-house news: The Architectural League Prize for Young Architects and Designers 2011 winners have been announced! The League Prize (formerly known as the Young Architects Forum) is an annual competition, series of lectures, and exhibition created to recognize specific works of high quality and to encourage the exchange of ideas among young people who might otherwise not have a forum. This year’s theme is It’s Different: “Not content to wait for the hoped-for return of economic conditions favorable to conventional ideas about architectural practice, architects must ask: What is the new role of the designer? The Call for Entries addresse[d] the state of architecture as a reflection of our world: it’s different now.” For the full list of winners and more information, check out the Architectural League website and stay tuned for more updates on the upcoming lecture series and exhibition by the winners.

Gotham Gazette reported this week that Waste-to-Energy, a process commonly understood as burning garbage to convert to energy, is currently being seriously considered by the Bloomberg administration in light of the soaring costs of exporting our city’s trash (up 62% in the past decade). A similar incinerator has been in operation in Newark for the past 20 years, and currently burns up some of the city’s refuse. Following the closure of the Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island, most of the city’s garbage is trucked to out-of-state landfills in Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Virginia. Five years ago, the city approved a solid-waste management plan, hoping to improve the handling and moving of solid waste via barge, railroad and new waste transfer stations across the city, to distribute the garbage burden citywide, over a few neighborhoods. Waste-to-Energy has been considered before, as reported in this 2005 WNYC interview on Bloomberg’s take on garbage, and with the possibility back on the table, questions are again being raised — the burden of trash processing has fallen upon traditionally low-income and minority-based communities, and activists in Sunset Park and Hunts Point are voicing their concern. The energy conversion process is popular in Europe and has gotten cleaner in recent years, but remains a potential source of unease for many residents. See more on Waste-to-Energy technology and the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance’s platform, and map on existing waste transfer station in communities of color.

1911 Postcard of Penn Station

1911 Postcard of Penn Station

Clean up the Gowanus Canal
Remember the community-drive clean-up efforts detailed in last year’s Canal Nest Colony feature? Now’s your chance to pitch in on the fun and help clean up the Gowanus Canal! Join the Gowanus Canal Conservancy on Sunday, March 27th to clean the 2nd Avenue Rain Garden and organize their Salt Lot for the 2011 season. See more details on the event and more to come in their Clean and Green Season series.

Historical Exhibition on Penn Station
An exhibition exploring the legacy of New York’s lost Beaux Arts landmark and ideas for the future opens today You can see “The Once and Future Pennsylvania Station” at the New York Transit Museum Gallery Annex and Store at Grand Central Terminal now through October 30.

The Roundup keeps you up to date with topics we’ve featured and other things we think are worth knowing about.

The views expressed here are those of the authors only and do not reflect the position of The Architectural League of New York.