‘As for New York City, it is a place apart. There is not its match in any other country in the world.” 

– Pearl S. Buck

(The Best Quotes About NYC & The People Who Live In It, 2016)

Manhattan, New York, is the city of dreams and a global metropolis with people from all nationalities, cultures, beliefs, and ethnicities. New York’s pop culture and prominent position among other cities make it impressive, but this article focuses on its livability. Proper urban planning to meet the inhabitants’ requirements is essential in such a constantly examined metropolis. We analyze how effectively New York’s almost 200-year-old plan is performing now. Are grid cities the issue, or are there just modern problems that require modern solutions? With the city facing difficulties like housing and rising water levels due to climate change, it is critical to examine what went wrong and what can be suitable for the future. 

How the grid came into existence 

Beginning with the City of Philadelphia, a utopia planned by William Penn in 1681 to embody American values and Quakerism, American cities have generally followed a grid form. He wished to retain the town’s identity by utilizing communal places and gardens. Following that was Oglethorpe’s plan in Savannah, in 1733, which was influenced by the Enlightenment with an emphasis on balance and limits on grid growth, resulting in grids but with elegant design and public squares where people could congregate and common regions that limited the grid plan’s reach. In 1791, Pierre’s concept for Washington DC was even grander, with diagonal streets, circles to break up the monotony of the grid, and great squares.

What does the New York grid city planning lack? - Sheet1
Manhattan skyline_©httpswww.cntraveler.comstoryif-the-world-was-mapped-using-the-manhattan-grid-system

A 1767 map of Manhattan depicted curved street anomalies with one tiny grid and a square inside. The development further could have been by embracing disorder, but in the 1800s trend was clear: a large population was arriving, and there was a desire to create an orderly and cleaner city. In 1807, New York City formed a commission to create a feasible design that was massive, depicting populated land and future grid regions. 

The landscape architect who designed Central Park and other public spaces in New York criticized that the misfortunes could’ve escaped if streets were rearranged better. As New York never ceased growing, the city was continuously constructed to accommodate the flood of people. City designs reflect ideals and then develop a culture, New York’s strategy back then was to build maximum occupancy buildings, and it evolved into the world’s largest real estate market.

The planning problems 

Road network for pedestrians and vehicles 

Previously undulated Manhattan transformed into proper grids with over 1000 intersections, spreading the traffic into the entire city instead of containing it majorly on the main road and then extending into arteries and culdesac. With less hierarchy of roads and all of them running from north-south and east-west, the city is easiest to navigate for motorists. The fine-grained layout also allows for taking alternate routes quickly in case of traffic.

What does the New York grid city planning lack? - Sheet2
system capacity_©httpsacademiccommons.columbia.edudoi10.7916D8NK3DQ9

These several crossroads slow down traffic inside the city, which may not be the best strategy with rising Manhattan congestion. But, more crucially, grids are considered best for walking since the frequent intersections provide breaks and rest periods. The Manhattan grid fails to provide that as it contains large blocks, generally 800 feet long, with no alleyways or pathways in between, giving everyone traveling the same experience. Smaller city blocks (200 feet), such as in Portland, Oregon, make the city far more walkable and even better to drive in, as the number of alternative routes is tenfold more than in Manhattan.

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Difference between large and small city blocks _©The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs

Lack of proper alleys 

Another big challenge that city planning didn’t account for in terms of livability and healthcare is its missing alleys that act as places for sanitation trucks to make pickups. Planners and decision-makers believed that alleyways invited undesirable activities and thought it was best to get rid of them. But now Manhattan’s solid block fronts are the key reason that garbage has to wait on the sidewalks or curb deliveries have to be done through commercial basement elevators. It is not wrongly famous that no matter how pretty new york is it is always stinking. During spring, the containers also end up overflowing and the sidewalks are a sight of black trash bags, inviting only rats and insects. 

What does the New York grid city planning lack? - Sheet4

Lack of zoning hierarchy 

New York, no doubt, is a fantastic city to live and work in, but everyone who has been will tell you that you can’t escape the police sirens and traffic noises no matter where you go. There is no area that is devoid of noise as a result of making all avenues and highways equally essential. You’ll need to create and install soundproofing for that!

Nowadays, all residential and commercial districts encounter considerable traffic, in contrast to international capitals where residential sections, at least for the wealthy, give serenity and no easy access. Manhattan’s city planning can boast of treating all equally.



  1. Gothamist. 2016. The Best Quotes About NYC & The People Who Live In It. [online] Available at: <> 
  2. Kelbaugh, D., 2012. The Environmental Paradox of Cities: Gridded in Manhattan vs. Gridless in Dubai. Consilience: The Journal of Sustainable Development, 9(1), pp.84–96. 
  3. Jacobs, J., 1961. The death and life of great american cities, London: The Bodley Head. 

A student interested in understanding people and their relation with spaces better, both through the built and unbuilt. She is fascinated by little things and wants to share that feeling with the world through her words.