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200th Anniversary of the Map That Made New York City

By Gerald D. Swick 
Originally published on Published Online: March 21, 2011 
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Don't forget to wish a happy 200th birthday to—um, well, to a piece of paper. But that piece of paper laid out an idea that made possible the development of one of the world's greatest cities.

On March 22, 1811, the street commissioners of what would become the great city of New York certified the Commissioners' Map and Survey of Manhattan Island, which laid out the city in rigid, 90-degree grids comprising 2,000 blocks of equal size—which would extend the city miles beyond its March 1811 boundaries and encompass salt marshes, forests and privately owned lands.

The plan also called for nearly 2,000 acres of landfills to be created. Today, those old landfills sometimes give up ghosts of the past, like the 18th-century ship unearthed in Manhattan in July 2010.

The design was the conceived by John Randel, Jr., the New York City street commissioners' secretary, surveyor and chief engineer. Far from being universally lauded as a far-sighted design, it often led residents to pelt Randel and his workers with rotten produce.

Click here to read The New York Times' tribute to the map that made New York City possible and to see an interactive map of the city's astonishing growth on and around Manhattan Island.



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