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Pair 14: One Nation, Under a Grid

Pair 14: One Nation, Under a Grid

Number 20 in 101 Treasures is this 1683 map of the projected city of Philadelphia, from a survey conducted at William Penn’s request by Thomas Holme. Part of William Clements’ original gift to the university, this map is the first published city plan for any English settlement in the Americas. William Penn received the royal patent to settle Pennsylvania in 1681, and selected the site of Philadelphia the following year. He famously wished for the city to be a “greene and countrie towne,” with genteel houses on large lots and numerous public squares. His purposes for this plan included permitting for air circulation, which he felt would reduce the risk of outbreaks of infectious diseases (which did not work so well), and for hindering the spread of catastrophic fires by having buildings set farther apart (which did work–Philadelphia never experienced the kind of catastrophic urban fires that destroyed London in 1666, Charleston in 1740, or New York in 1776 and 1835). This plan is often credited with introducing the urban grid system, although this is untrue. However, in projecting an as-yet unbuilt city along rectilinear streets and avenues, and showing how the blocks would be divided into lots, Penn displayed the grid’s ideal suitability for promoting urban real estate speculation, which would remain the basis of many of the United States’ greatest fortunes.
Thomas Holme, A Portraiture of the City of Philadelphia, in the Province of Pennsylvania in America.
London: sold by Andrew Sowle, [1683].

The other item, acquired in 2020, shows a different city, at a different point in its development, but shares many of the preoccupations of the Holmes/Penn map. Mathew Dripps’ 1867 Plan of New York City, from the Battery to Spuyten Duyvil Creek, is an atlas of 19 hand-colored maps mounted on linen. Also based on detailed surveys, this atlas is an attempt to show all of Manhattan Island, halfway through the development of Central Park. The atlas maps out individual lots with their street numbers, along with the sites of specific factories. It also charts the locations of the three-foot-tall marble markers that were placed by John Randel, Jr. and his surveyors to mark theoretical future street corners after the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811 projected the rectilinear street grid to cover the entire island. In the maps showing the northern part of the island, which was still mostly rural in 1867, the outlines of large estates are laid over the street grid, along with the names of their landowners, illustrating the impending collision between two different models of urban real estate speculation. Looking at these two maps together, separated by almost 200 years, reveals the power of projection in envisioning future urban growth in the new nation.

Mathew Dripps, Plan of New York City, from the Battery to Spuyten Duyvil Creek. Showing every Lot and Building thereon; old Farm Lines, Street Numbers at the corners of blocks, Railroads, Steamboat Landings, Bulkhead and Pier Lines, etc., etc., etc. Published in New York (103 Fulton Street) by Mathew Dripps, 1867