Mythologies of the Grid in the Empire City, 1811–2011

  • Reuben Rose-RedwoodEmail author


This chapter examines the performative dimensions of historical narration as a form of modern mythmaking by reconsidering conventional narratives on the “origins” of Manhattan’s grid street plan of 1811. The historical mythology of the grid espoused in canonical readings of the Plan of 1811 relies extensively on a rearticulation of the official explanation that the grid’s designers provided in a foundational text known as the “Commissioners’ Remarks.” The author argues that such accounts result in an extraordinarily narrow and formulaic interpretation of the utilitarian motives and intentions behind the city’s grid plan, one that reinforces a form of “morphological essentialism.” To support this argument, the author shifts the focus of attention beyond the “Commissioners’ Remarks” in order to complicate readings of the intentionality that gave rise to the 1811 street plan. The chapter concludes by suggesting that the mythic search for the “origins” of the grid in the realm of founding intentions can most effectively be challenged by drawing attention to the proliferation of countermyths of gridded space.


Essentialism Genealogy Grid Mythology Narrative New York City Urban planning history 


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© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of VictoriaVictoriaCanada

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