The Greatest Grid


Other Grids

Earlier Grids

Grid planning is an old idea. From the earliest times, surveyors used the grid to lay out new settlements because it was a repetitive, uncomplicated system and facilitated land division.

Gridiron town planning came to the New World through its colonizers. Spanish settlers were instructed to follow 16th-century town planning guidelines, known as the Law of the Indies, that prescribed grid plans, as seen in Lima, Peru. Gridiron plans were an essential feature of Spanish colonial settlements in the New World, where city planning was used to regulate and extend the empire. Read More

In colonial North America, Philadelphia (1683) and Savannah, Georgia (1732) were the most significant examples of gridded cities. Their plans demonstrate some of the advantages of the grid: rectangular blocks can be any size and they are easy to subdivide and replicate.

The most important reference point for the New York commissioners was the plan of Washington, D.C., laid out by Pierre Charles L’Enfant in 1791. In L’Enfant’s plan, an orthogonal grid is overlaid with a larger-scale network of diagonal streets punctuated by frequent squares. The intersections of the two grids produced irregular lots that added to the cost and complexity of construction, complications the New York commissioners wished to avoid. But Washington had the advantage of creating opportunities for buildings to stand out, with monuments sited at the end of a vista, such as the Capitol, or on a square, such as the White House. Washington, D.C. was a city for symbolic expression of power, whereas New York consciously chose another route. Show Less