The Greatest Grid


Building the Grid: From Paper to Street, Block and Lot

Selling Lots, Subdividing Estates

The Commissioners emphasized the benefits of a rectangular city plan for the construction of houses, but did not comment on the preceding step: the conversion of large city blocks into residential lots. An unstated advantage of the grid was its role in this conversion process: it created an easy format for the subdivision and development of land.

Before the grid, descriptive details delineated legal boundaries—a fence, a creek, a stone, sometimes a country road. On the grid, blocks were cut up into easily measured, stable, rectangular parcels. Read More The grid system stripped the land of topographical markers and specificity, and repackaged it as a standardized building lot. In short, land became a commodity. Of course, land had been bought and sold in New York before 1811, but the grid reconceptualized the island in one fell swoop, rationalized the real estate market, and enabled a change in the scale of development. In this sense, the 1811 grid gave birth to New York’s modern real estate market.

A strength of the grid is the compatibility of its uniform structure with individual choices. The 1811 plan did not dictate lot dimensions, but the blocks yielded a modular system; a standard lot was 100 feet deep (half the block depth) and 20 or 25 feet wide. These lot widths were compatible with the varying block lengths and appropriate for individual town houses. As pre-grid estates were cut into blocks, owners put their property on the market, usually by auction, with modular subdivision plans such that purchasers could aggregate any number of lots. Show Less