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Welcome to Stuff You Should Know. A production of NPR Radio's HowStuffWorks. Hey, welcome to the podcast, I'm Josh Clark, and there's Charles W. Chuck Bryant. This is stuff you should know another in our endless annals of New York City, Ed.. That's right. This is a pretty interesting episode, I think.
And my favorite part about it, this was Dave Ruza, one of our writers helped put this together. And Dave is clearly annoyed about this whole thing. And I think it's hysterical how many times he gets annoyed by the laziness. Yeah. Of the commission.
I have to say, I agree with Dave, too. I was annoyed by it as well, I think. Yeah, it's always annoying when you see somebody, like have a great opportunity and just put it away, you know what I mean?
Yeah. And we should also point out Dave got a lot of his information from a really wonderful book called A City on a Grid Colen How New York Became New York by Gerald Keppel, not Gerald McCranie different Gerald Wright or is it Copple?
I think it's kepel. If it's Koe, that's what I was going with was kepel. Yeah. I'm going to get this book though. This is this is right up my alley because, you know, I'm obsessed with the history and the sort of formation of New York City as we know it today. Yeah.
Where did you get the idea for this episode? Just my constant desire to learn about Manhattan and how that became eventually Manhattan that we know and love. OK, I'm just fascinated by it. I love it. I love everything about it.
This is definitely a big chapter in it, because what we're talking about is the plan called the commissioner's plan of eighteen eleven that basically laid out Manhattan as we know and understand and love it today. Everything north of Houston Street, I should say.
Yeah. And here's sort of a quick primer is Manhattan above? Houston is almost a perfect grid. Broadway kind of screws everything up, but, you know, great street.
But it's just Broadway is like I'm not following any rules, so I'm going to confuse people. But aside from that, it's pretty much a grid of eleven numbered avenues that run north to south, generally speaking.
Then you've got Lexington Park and Madison Avenue is and then two hundred and this was at the time numbered streets running roughly east or west.
And if you want to get a little more granular than that, the southernmost street in the East Village is east. First, as you would imagine, the northern most is two hundred and twenty eighth street as we live and breathe today in Inwood.
Well, that's on the island technically in Manhattan. If you're talking about the borough, it goes up to two hundred and twenty seventh, I believe.
Right. And if you want to go through the Bronx, you go all the way up to 263. Man, that's crazy. You've got so many streets that so many streets. You've got two hundred and sixty three streets.
You've got an east and west signifier which says and this is sort of a dummy's guide to getting around New York for the first time, too. If you broke your smartphone and you also don't want to walk around just staring at your smartphone the whole time. No, you're going to miss a lot.
Yeah. So try and get a little intuitive feel because it's really easy to get around if you know this stuff.
Um, East and West will signify whether you're an east or west of Fifth Avenue. And then here's a little trick to aid. No street streets run west, even no streets run east. So if you come out of a subway and you and you know which way north, south, east and west are, then you will never do the thing that I always do and walk in the wrong direction trying to go up or down. Yeah, because that's the thing.
Like, if you know what direction you're facing and you know where you're trying to go and where you are right now, you can basically make make your way anywhere in Manhattan, above Houston Street.
Yeah. And if you're like me and you have no idea ever what's north, south, east and west, and I don't either. I don't either. I had an easy time in L.A. because L.A. has the sun. Well they have they have that.
They also have geographical landmarks that make it super easy to tell which way north and south, like the Hollywood sign and the hills and stuff like that.
Is that real? Is the Hollywood sign real? What do you mean?
Is it real? OK, um, so that makes a lot easier in New York. When I come out, there are all those big tall buildings. I never know. I can never come out and say like, well, that's north. But if you know that stuff and you know that the even numbered streets are an E, the odd ones run west, then you can you won't walk in the wrong direction for a block and then get there like I do and go, oh, we should have gone the other way.
Because depending on what direction you're walking, if you're walking north or south going the wrong direction and a block isn't that bad. But if you're going east or west, it's real bad.
Well, because they're short, very long blocks going east to west and that's all part of that commissioner's plan that was laid out in 1811. And on the one hand, you know, we've kind of hit upon the pros and the cons of it that it's easy to get around, which is really saying something, because New York is absolutely huge. But you could make it from one end to the other without a map, just knowing that it's on a grid and how the grid is laid out, even roughly.
But the problem is, is it's on a grid, in a grid is one of the least organic shapes around. And because this grid stretches over almost all of Manhattan, most of Manhattan for sure, it's viewed by a lot of people as kind of soulless. And Kanyon, ask because you're just totally surrounded almost constantly by big imposing buildings, all of these right angles, which it feels like a very built environment. And until Central Park came along, which we did an episode on in what, the eighteen 50s or 60s.
Yeah. Like that was it. That was New York. There was nothing but that built environment. I got a few more of my things. Oh, OK. But, uh, Manhattan's about 13 and a half miles long and then so this grid makes sense. But then once you get north of 50 Ninth Street, you start to get like Atlanta does and a road will just change names out of nowhere. Atlanta is very famous for that. People get very confused here.
It is very confusing also because the Rotel Change names, but one of the names, Peachtree, will still be there. But it's a totally different street, right? It does not help things.
That's right. So north of fifty ninth avenues on the west side change names, but avenues on the east side do not. So eighth become Central Park, West 9th becomes Columbus Avenue, 10th becomes Amsterdam Avenue and 11th becomes West End Avenue.
What about Avenue of the Americas?
Well, that's six, right? Is that seventh? Oh, man. I thought I think it's sixth. I think it's my understanding.
But that's really not a name change. That's just a. That's something that tourists call it, right, I remember you making fun of me when I call it that. Did I really? Yeah, that sounds about right. Is really jarring. And then to get people really confused between 3rd and 5th Avenue, there are three avenues instead of what you would think would be one, because Lexington Park and Madison fall between those. Yeah, and then south of twenty third, you've got your lettered avenues, OK, A, B, C and D, which is Alphabet City, so you wouldn't need to ever pull out a map.
You just have to stand in the middle of New York and listen to the first 10 minutes of this episode and you'll find your way. No problem.
All right. Should we get into this? He said people don't like the grid. There are there are a lot of people. I mean, what did Walt Whitman call it?
I think now I think he said he called it one perpetual dead flat. Yeah. And streets. Cutting each other at right angles are certainly the last things in the world consistent with beauty of situation.
How about this one from Edith Wharton, rectangular New York, this cramped horizontal gridiron of a town without towers, porticos, fountains or perspective's hidebound in its deadly uniformity of mean ugliness?
Yeah, I like to write about. That's great. That's a great word. And mean ugliness definitely captures like a certain sense of New York, depending on your your mood or mindset, you know. Yeah. There's one guy named Peter Marcuse who's the architecture critic. He said that the grid layout of Manhattan was one of the worst city plans of any major city in the developed countries of the world. Right. But some people love it. Some people said it was pragmatic.
Some people said it really accommodated for the one thing it needed to accommodate for which was massive growth. Right. Let me see here a an architect named Rafael Vignali. He was, I think, a modern architect, not modern. I just mean current architect. Right. But he may do modern work. He knows. He said the grid is the best manifestation of American praag Matisse's pragmatism in the creation of urban form. And then in nineteen seventy eight, a Dutch architect named REM Koolhaas said that the grid was the most courageous act of prediction in Western civilization.
Clearly talking about the the growth. Yes, but a courageous act that's like architect to create that great thing.
So but for the most part, from what I understand and definitely Dave says the same thing, most New Yorkers, especially born and raised New Yorkers, are not happy that that's how their city is laid out, that there's a lot of room for improvement in your experience to. Sure. I mean, Central Park is great. But, you know, as we'll find out, they did not they didn't didn't really plan for green spaces in New York has done their best to kind of carve them out since then.
But, you know, let's get into this commission. Well, let's talk about grids first. You want to. Yeah. All right. Do you want to take a break and then talk about the the grid story?
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It's. So New York didn't invent the grid as much as they like to boast that they did, they did not. In fact, a grid layout of a city goes back to the Indus Valley civilization that for some reason keeps popping up in the last year or so. I guess they're going to make a comeback or something like that. But they've just been coming out all over the place. But one of the what was it, Chuck? Was it.
Do they invent the zipper? I don't think it was a zipper was Indigo. Uh, there's been there's been a number of them. But anyway, at least 5000 years ago, the Indus Valley civilization was using the grid layout to create Mozingo Daro, which is a seven hundred and fifty acre city on a grid. And then shortly after that, the Greeks said, I really like this. In fact, there's a Greek thinker and mathematician named Hippiedom who's known as the father of city planning.
And he was Buli for grids to. Yeah, if you have a grid that's still these people still call that the hippiedom and plan, which is kind of great all these years later to still get recognized for your grid work. Yeah. If you're ever talking to somebody and they refer to a grid as a hippiedom and plan, that person knows what they're talking about or listens to this show that it's one in the same, basically.
And you're going to say that, uh, let me see. The conquistadors of Spain, they kind of had a habit of coming in, conquering and then having their template in place to create these grids as what they called the law of the Indies. And they would sort of just come in, set up shop. You got a town with a big central plaza and then a grid surrounding that central plaza. Right.
And they use that for everything from Lima to Los Angeles. In this took me back in my mind to what was the name of that colonial town in Guatemala that we visited.
Oh, yeah, I know. I know what you mean. It was it was wonderful to drive me crazy. It really was wonderful. Is one of the most beautiful towns I've ever been in. But it had like a central plaza with the fountain. It was a much smaller town. But now I think about it was laid out on a grid, too. And it was part of that law of the indies that you were mentioning that it was just like this is how you build the town.
And apparently the reason that they they used that that law, like in town after town after town, that they just basically took over and said, this is ours now. It's Spains is applying a grid was kind of a metaphor for applying order and civilization to a formerly disordered and wild indigenous, you know, town. Yeah. Which makes sense from a colonisers perspective. But I'm sure it sucked from the indigenous person's perspective like everything else.
Yeah, but what this stupid right angle stuff.
So New York City comes along. Philadelphia had been laid out in a grid by William Penn very deliberately, though, and that grid was kind of roomy and spacious because William Penn did not like the congestion of London. No, but again, Philly very much purposeful. Same with DC, too. Yeah. Boy, DC has a has kind of a crazy grid.
Yeah. But once you understand it, it makes total sense numbers and letters and directions. Yeah. I always did take it a little more.
It takes more getting used to the New York to from, from my experience and what I understand. Yeah.
For sure. So the Commissioner's plan of 1811 is really sort of the demarcation point between what was first New York, New Amsterdam and then what we now know as Manhattan, because anyone who's ever seen.
Almost said games of New York, Gangs of New York knows that those were crazy days down there in lower Manhattan and things just sort of sprouted up organically from the river upward as far as the layout and the design. And, you know, you can still feel that when you go down to lower Manhattan, which is why I love the villages now. I think it's just I mean, I like the simplicity of the grid, but I think what I love about lower Manhattan is how organic it feels.
It's a jumble. And I mean, it's a jumble for a reason because those streets largely follow these original organic paths that the Dutch settlers in earliest English settlers basically said, oh, we need to get from the waterfront up, you know, to the common land or whatever, because that's way here's a good path.
Yeah. And this path happens to meander around a salt marsh and we avoid having to go up a hill by going around this way. So it's kind of like meandering and it's definitely locked in time from those streets down there in lower Manhattan. I like it too, but it is very easy to be like, are you sure we're going the right direction? Still, it's very easy to get lost in those because it isn't at all a grid.
Yeah, I've spent enough time in lower Manhattan now to where I can land market. Like it's just familiar enough to me to where I kind of know like this block in that block. Right. So I know where I'm going. And you mentioned something important. I don't think we've even kind of said that New York was not all this just big one big flat slab 13 miles long that we love today because you can walk forever without ever getting out of breath because it's not Seattle.
Right. Um, New York was swampland and it had hills and marshes and creeks and rocks. And it was you know, it's kind of wild East Coast territory.
Yeah. And I mean, the reason that those marshes and the ponds and hills and stuff aren't there anymore is because of this 1811 commissioners plan. It basically said tear it all down, fill it all in, build this over. And they did. That's the most astounding thing, is they did that. They you know, we'll see. They passed a law that basically said we're we're going to appoint a commission of three people. They're going to come up with three people.
And whatever they come up with is law.
Yeah, it can't be challenged in court if we're not going to back back it up and change it in any way. And they really didn't as bad as the plan was in almost every way, they really stuck to it. But the thing that struck me I had no idea about this was that the the 18 11 commissioners plan was just a rip off of another earlier surveying map that basically provided the basis of this of the commissioner's plan, not even the basis of it.
They were like, oh, we'll take this as a starting point. They just said, we'll take this, print it and put our names on it. And that's ultimately what happened.
Yeah. So pre Revolutionary War, most of Manhattan was in that lower third of the island and we got into big time debt because of the Revolutionary War. And so the city said in the 70s and 80s, all right, here's what we got to do. We own tons of land, a publicly owned land, and all this marshy kind of really Rocky Pondy area. It's not developed. Let's sell this stuff off and make some dough. It's called the common lands.
And we need somebody to get in there and just sort of, you know, survey this and plot it all out so we know exactly how to best sell this. Yeah.
So they hired a guy named Kazimir Theodore Gork. So I'm going with this jerk, sure it's not a cucumber, it's a Gurkin. Do you remember Mr. Cabbage from Kids in the shower?
Well, this had nothing to do with that, right.
All right. So this this surveyor actually went through the common lands, like basically what we understand is all of Manhattan between Houston and North Harlem. He just went across and broke it into five hundred acre parcels. He had a 66 foot chain on his surveying poles and so he said, well, I'll just use that is the basic measurement for the widest street, 66 feet is what it's going to be.
I think he said five hundred acre parcels, weren't they? Five acre. Oh, yes, I'm sorry. Bigger picture is a little bit of a difference. They were five acre parcel, so there's even more work. There's a hundred times more work than what I described.
That's right. So. He laid them out as a grid because he wasn't like this guy wasn't out to say here's how Manhattan should be built. Right, right.
This is the best way to promote the future of growth in Manhattan.
No, that was not his charge. His charge was like, hey, let's just divide this stuff up and sell it. He had some interesting constraints. They had to be five acres. Yeah. They had to have a central road that all of these could sort of access, like, fairly easily. Right. And then he had a survey chain. It's crazy to think about. This was one of the things that informs what is modern New York.
His survey chain was 66 feet. So he said, all right, that's how wide the road is.
Yeah, exactly. So I think that was like the the widest road, the Central Access Road. He called that one middle. And now I believe that Fifth Avenue is middle. What was originally middle road back in seventeen ninety six. Yeah, that's adorable. So he carved this up this place up into any of these plots that are two hundred feet on the east and west boundaries of it. So going up and down running north south. But if you're on the plot it would be on the east side of the plot in the west side of the plot.
If that was not confusing before, it is now and then across the width was nine hundred and twenty feet. And that was the those were the plots. He said, here you go. This is there's a bunch of them up there. But I've carved up all of these common lands and you can start selling them if you want.
Yeah. Did you mention the names of the other two roads? Oh yeah. He said I'm going to I'm going to put two more in of these 66 feet wide roads. And he had some very clever names for them. Yeah.
One was middle, remember. Yeah. The one to the east he named East and the one to the west. He named West. Yeah. Which which makes sense if you're looking at it from if you're on the middle road to the east is the east road to the west of the west road. But they run north. South.
Right. And I hate directions, and like you said, that was fifth in the center, so that's now fourth, fifth and sixth. Seventh right. Or Fourth Avenue.
Fifth Avenue in the.
You know, you're really not supposed to say that. What a jerk. I can't believe I said that. You didn't say it like that. And you just you just made sure that you waited until a crowd had gathered in and really laid into me.
I think I remember that. Was that her first trip to New York? Probably. Yeah, probably. It's funny. We've been back a couple of times since then as a team, huh?
Yeah, I know. I've got some really great memories of New York. I miss it. Yeah, it's been a while. Twenty, twenty one. Well, we will see you again. Yes we will.
New York. Don't you work at least I hope so. There are no guarantees right now. We will see New York again. All right.
So do we take another break? I feel like there's still a lot.
There's still a lot we should keep going for now, I think.
All right. So in 1887, this is when the New York state legislature said, you know what, we need to like, we're growing here. It's clear that this southern tip of Manhattan is just the beginning. So they passed a bill that they described as an act of relative, an act relative to improvements, touching the laying out of the streets and roads in the city of New York and for other purposes. All right. Which made sense.
But like I said, this law, they decided to just vest absolute authority into these three commissioners and said, we're going to follow whatever they come up with, whatever they say that seems to them most conducive to public good. We're just going to take on its face that it is most conducive to public good and just go with it.
That's crazy that it was just three people and that it wasn't like 10 teams of three people submitting the best designs that then would be gone over and voted on like, yeah, really, we took this.
No one took it seriously, weirdly enough. All right. So who were these guys? So there are three commissioners appointed. One was Governor Morris. His first name was governor. He was one of the founding fathers. He wrote a lot of the Constitution, including the preamble. Yeah, he had a peg leg. He lost his leg in a carriage accident, although there's rumors that it was something else. But he was known as a Dave puts an energetic philanderer.
But he was apparently a very likeable Benjamin Franklin esque kind of dude who seem to be fairly smart, but had really no understanding of surveying, as far as I can tell.
Now, then, his nephew in law, John Rutherford, he is he was a landowner in New Jersey. In fact, I think the largest landowner in New Jersey at the time. And by all accounts, it looks like this was pure nepotism. He was late for meetings. He was not especially interested, even to the annoyance of Governor Morris, all the reasons to not exercise nepotism.
This guy brought to the table as one third of this commission who's figuring out how to lay out the plan for New York City. That's right.
And then the third guy, Simon LeBon. No, no, no, Simeon DeWitt, excuse me. And this guy actually knew what he was doing. He was a really very respected, accomplished surveyor, worked with George Washington, I think eventually became the which I didn't even know was a thing, was the official surveyor for the Continental Army and then the surveyor general of New York State. Right.
So he knew what he was doing, which makes his role all the more shameful that he didn't say like, oh, well, we really had a we got to get crackin. It's been three years and we've got four years to do it. Maybe he did, though. Who knows? He might have been completely run over by these other two jumps and he just got shouted down again. I know. Well, at the very least, Governor Morris was also one of the founding members of the commission that created the Erie Canal, which was for a very long time considered one of the greatest public works projects in the history of America, certainly in the history of New York state.
And that kind of energy and imagination and drive just did not make it to this eighteen eleven commission for the planning of New York.
I wonder if he I mean, this sounds cynical, but I wonder if he literally was like, man, the Erie Canal project really was a big bummer and how hard we had to work. And let's just kind of, hey, look at these maps that this guy drew to sell off York. Let's just use those. Yeah. So, I mean, that's kind of what they did. Like, they they had four years or they took four years.
I'm not sure how long they had, but they they took four years from eighteen or seven to eighteen eleven to turn in their report. Four years of meeting sporadically. True, but they still met over this four year period. They came up with an eleven page report to lay out these 13 miles in length, not ninety one square miles of Manhattan, these common land. All the way from House and Street up to North Harlem, they came up with 11 pages to explain their map and their map really made sense as a grid.
But again, they stole the grid from Kazmir gork, a camera, what I call them before dark. I'm going with Gork now. OK, sure.
But they didn't give him any credit for it whatsoever.
No, I mean, I don't want to go so far as to call it a tracing project, but, you know, they borrowed pretty heavily like the streets and the avenues were basically the exact same when, you know, earlier you mentioned the blocks were 200 by nine hundred and twenty feet in Zork from work, right? Yeah. This had the exact same layout and that was no accident. No.
And they were in virtually the same spot. They did do some stuff. You know, they didn't just take his his map, like you're saying, and trace it and call it their own. They they made some changes to it. They created instead of the three Middle East and West, they created 12 avenues running north south, not not true north, south, but just, you know, for our purposes, north and south. And then they created one hundred and fifty five numbered streets.
Yeah, but what they added this stuff, but it's sort of just copy paste. Kind of. Kind of. But the big thing is so adding the 12 numbered avenues was a definite change to gurgis gawks. Never going to say the same thing twice.
But was it. Yeah, because he only had the three. I know, but he just had the three and they were like, well, we need more, so let's just do it heated all over the place. Sure, sure. OK, all right. Yeah, that's fair. Yeah, these guys are definitely not a hill I'm willing to die on to see what you will about. And I think they're lazy schmoes too. All right. And then they took these they took these cross streets that are formed by the the the surveying of these blocks and turn them into numbered streets.
So avenues running north south, they were the big ones. One hundred and fifty five numbered streets running east to west. They they widened the avenues. They said they're going to be one hundred feet wide. I guess they had a longer serving the bigger chain. Right. And then they widened some of the cross streets to, I guess, ease congestion. I think they widened 15 of them total.
Yeah, I think the other streets were 60 feet and then 15 of them went to 100 at 14th, 20, 30, 30 for the 40 second 57, 72, 79, 86, 96, 106, one 16 one twenty fifth, one thirty fifth, one fourth and one fifty fifth.
Great. But why, why those particular ones? There doesn't seem to be much rhyme or reason, because if you notice, they didn't really hit their stride into keeping them separated by 10 ten cross streets. No Eighty-six Street. Yeah. So there's not really much rhyme or reason there when they did that for three of them.
Four of them. And then the, the, the, the streets that they did choose to widen didn't necessarily make much sense one way or the other. Like for example, 71st Street was already fairly wide, it was definitely wider than seventy second street. But they decided to make seventy second street the widened the wide and Cross Street rather than seventy first. And apparently no one knows why. The closest thing I could find is there some record in 1857 of somebody having to remove a big rock from seventy second street to widen it.
It's one that doesn't even explain or makes sense because there was a bunch of houses that had to be torn down to make seventy second street widened rather than 71st, which was already wide and had almost no houses.
Exactly. So these guys were just when you started to compile all the evidence will kind of pay more out.
It really seems like these guys didn't even go to the common lands, that maybe they were just working from jerks map or if they did go to the common lanes, they took zero notes or paid zero attention in. All of this came from a place of laziness and ignorance, like not knowing that seventy second was wider than seventy first or vice versa would explain that decision more than anything else. Yeah.
The other another example is if you've ever been on the West Side and you feel like man, these avenues are big, it's because they are. The avenues on the east side are spaced at six hundred and fifty and six hundred and ten feet apart or six hundred and ten feet apart. And on the west they are all eight hundred feet apart for no reason. No reason at all. Yeah. Doesn't make any sense. Again it just it, it seems like they just phoned this in.
And what's even more astounding is that New York's founding fathers said, OK, we're going to do exactly what you say without questioning it.
Yeah. And actually we kind of do have the reason if you read closely and we'll tell you the secret reason right after this.
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It's. How's that for a cliffhanger? It was great. I'm still a little tense waiting for you to pay it off. All right. Here's the real reason everyone and it all lies in this quote that was pulled from their commission report. If it should be asked, why the why was the present plan adopted in preference to any other? The answer is because after taking all circumstances into consideration and it appeared to be the best or in other more proper terms, attended with the least inconvenience.
And I think that's the magic phrase right there. That last phrase attended with the least inconvenience, and they've rightfully says what is obvious, which is inconvenient for the three commissioners.
Yeah, because their plane was extraordinarily inconvenient for basically everyone involved. Like there was very from the people who were in charge of like making this this like building this grid or this plan to the people who were already living in places that were torn down, 40 percent. Yeah, 40 percent of places were torn down to to adhere to this plan, this 18 11 commission plan. Yeah, that's crazy. And again, when you start to add all this stuff up, it does seem like the least inconvenient for the three commissioners.
Yeah. And the fact that if that is true and they just included, that is kind of like a cheeky little joke. You know, this guys, are there enough not necessarily burning in hell, but they're probably in purgatory somewhere. I also have a lot of respect for that kind of laziness at times. So the kind that makes fun of itself in public documents. Well, just just is that upfront about the fact, like, you know, I didn't really want to work too hard on this.
So here's here it is. Right. So, yeah, it was very inconvenient for everyone but them. They did this because of the growth population they expected. So it sort of made sense. But they even got that wrong. They were wrong by about half of what they thought the growth rate was going to be.
Yeah, that's that's the thing is they were saying, like, OK, this is this affords enough population growth to for the population greater than any other this side of China is how they put it. So they clearly did have at least growth on their mind and that if you build on a grid, it affords for the most growth is the easiest to build on. Right. Angled structures are the easiest to build and settle in, live in. But the thing is, is part of that law that at seven law that established the commission charged them with creating public squares, although it said in in size and form and all that, a number that the commissioners see fit.
Unfortunately, the commissioners didn't see fit to make almost any kind of public gathering places, especially green spaces for mental health, I guess is what you would call it.
Yeah, and their reasoning is kind of kind of B.S. actually, I'm not sure which one it was. I guess it was Morris that I'm going to read the whole quote, but he basically said, hey, listen, we don't have the Sin River or the Temes winding through the middle of town. But what we do have are these two wonderful rivers that just kind of hug Manhattan. And that's enough because everyone's just going to go hang out the river all the time.
All right, because it's beautiful and gorgeous and you can swim in it. And the East River in the Hudson River will forever be our green space, basically.
Yeah, basically that that was the city had enough. It didn't need green spaces because of the east in the Hudson Rivers. And like about 40 years, people were like, now we do. We need to build Central Park.
Yeah. Which was a savior because I think it says here on their original plan, only five percent of the grid was public green space. And two hundred and forty of those 400 acres was a parade ground.
Yes. Which I didn't know exactly where that was. You know, I'm not sure, um, I don't know.
I mean, there you know, there's Washington Square Park. There's some cool kind of central promenades and things like that. And then these, you know, New York's famous for these tiny little slivers of a park, um, kind of all over the place.
But they're they're small.
They're they are very small, especially compared to the surrounding areas for sure in the building.
That's why the Highline was such a big deal. Yeah, it was a big deal. And I remember not quite grasping why. No, I definitely do, because there's just people need that. People need green space. They need nature. They need to be like outside of a built environment, even if it's a built natural environment, you know what I mean?
Yeah. And Central Park is a. Amazing, and we love it, but that's a it's a long way if you're in southern Manhattan to get up there, right? Right. But basically these guys said you don't need to go hang out at the Hudson or the East River. So wonderful and lovely.
So the there are a lot of people, like we said, that were really unhappy with this. This is a huge exercise of eminent domain. There are a lot of people on these lands already remember Seneca Village that was destroyed to create Central Park. They managed to survive the 1811 commission.
I can't remember how long that was around, but I want to say Seneca Village was around for a good 50 years before it was leveled in 1850. So it would have been around noon on the common lands during this time. But like you said, about 39 or 40 percent of homeowners or established buildings had to be torn down. They fill them ponds. They filled in salt marshes. They completely altered the ecosystem of stuff that could have been built around or incorporated.
Have they stopped and thought about how to do that? They just leveled everything and built a grid over it. And so a lot of people were really, really unhappy about this. And they were particularly unhappy that the the city administration was just sticking to this no matter what. And there were a lot of lawsuits in all of them. From what I understand, it were unsuccessful. Oh, yeah.
For about 60 years, there were tons of lawsuits going on. And I know you said it was a big eminent domain act, but it was, I think, still the largest act of eminent domain in New York City. Yeah. And that includes Central Park and the how we get how they get their water, which was another good episode. Yeah.
Because, I mean, Central Park is huge, but it's just a small sliver of this larger area. Yeah.
Let's roll this one quote from landowner Clement Clarke Moore. He published a pamphlet about the tyrannical commissioner's plan. And it says this Nothing is to be left unmolested, which does not coincide with the street commissioner's plummet and level. These are men who would have cut down the seven hills of Rome, burned big time.
Yeah. So didn't matter, though. No, it really didn't matter. They just went ahead with it blindly and thoughtlessly and did. And again, like it did accommodate growth, although they underestimated the growth. But it took a little while for this stuff to fill up. This this plan was delivered in 1811, but it wasn't until 1875 that enough people had started to move in, that there were more New Yorkers living above 14th Street than there were living below it.
Because, remember, I mean, lower Manhattan was where it all began. So, I mean, it took a little while to fill in and it didn't even necessarily fill in uniformly. By that same year in 1875, there's still 40000 vacant lots left in this grid plan, and that was about half of the space.
Yeah, I love that fact. That's good. Dave has some nice facts here at the end. 1869, the very first apartment building in New York was built called the Stuyvesant, and they call them I don't even think they called them apartments at the time. It was called a French flat or a French house. But prior to that, it was, you know, tenement houses and houses. Right. And so the Stuyvesant is built and everyone thinks it's silly that anyone would want to live in the same building as other people.
And they call that Stiva Zandt's folly, but that it was at one hundred and forty two, East 18th between Irving Place and 3rd. And it was it was a huge hit by people, made fun of it in the newspapers, but people signed up to live there almost immediately. It filled up. It was demoed and replaced in 1960. But so this is 1869. Very it didn't take long, though. In 1884, the Dakota was built, which still stands today.
So apartment buildings kind of came into fashion, I think probably do. Just over Zandt's folly.
Yeah, well, yeah. I mean, it went over so well and so quickly that it really opened the way for more and more to be built. Pretty cool. So one thing that people point to is this commissioner's plane of 1811 is just like that same principle or the same significance that the Spanish coming in and imposing a grid over an indigenous settlement was somehow taming the wild or the organic or something like that. There's a this is the turning point between kind of unplanned, organic, much more harmonious, naturally, New York and the planned modern New York that we know and love today.
This is where it went from one to the other, almost like flipping a switch and granted for it took decades and decades to to realize this plan. But when when it was delivered and when it was adopted, that was that was it. That change happened and the transition began. Yeah. It's pretty amazing. I think so too. What else is there for New York? I mean, we figure we got water, we got the subways covered, we got Central Park, we've got.
Oh, yeah. Um, let's see. There can't be much else as far as just the bones of. Oh I know. What I want to do is maybe how that how the mailman the trash work.
Tomorrow. OK. All right, yeah, we did the rockets one seven two oh, that's right. I mean, we've done a lot in New York topics. It's true. Or maybe we should move to a different city. Let's start talking about Des Moines. Holy cow, dude almost simultaneously came out of my mouth. Des Moines. Yes. It's so weird. It is weird. It's in this case, apparently, uh. You got anything else?
I got nothing else. OK, well, if you want to know more about New York to start reading and then eventually travel there, they'll give you the all clear when they're ready. And since I said that, it's time for listener mail.
My 16 year old son Owen. Is Probs your biggest fan for real? He also has narcolepsy. I appreciate you taking on this topic and bringing some understanding of it to the masses. He was diagnosed when he was 10 and it affects every single aspect of his life. I think it has made him wise beyond his years personally and compassionate to other people with invisible struggles. But it still sucks. Yeah. If you ever want to read or hear firsthand accounts from people with narcolepsy, check out Julie Flager.
That is why Gayathri or Flatcar, I'm not sure. Why would you say that?
Oh, I like the I like the one with flavor.
The second, uh, uh, who was doing all kinds of advocacy for people with narcolepsy, including a scholarship foundation. She founded Project Sleep and Voices of Narcolepsy. She also wrote a great book about her experiences with being diagnosed during law school called Wide Awake and Dreaming. When Owen received his diagnosis, I reached out to her for help. She said, I want a care package with a book, a T-shirt, wristbands, the very kind card, et cetera, to let him know that he's not alone.
That is very sweet. It is. I think she deserves an award for the work she's doing anyway. A great resource for sure. Thanks for the work that you do. I mean, could we get an award?
You know, we won a Webby before, I think. Well, that's true. Yeah. Sometimes it's fun and entertaining, but sometimes and often it's really important and educational as well. Sincerely, the mom of your biggest fan. And that is from Brooke.
Thanks, Brooke. And thanks own for listening. It's really good to hear from you guys. And I feel like we should send in something to. Sure. Let's do it, Chuck. We'll figure it out. All right. We can't be shown up by this flight. Gowri person. No, no, no. Send this send us your physical address and we'll make you something. That's right. And in the meantime, thanks for listening and thanks for being a fan.
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