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City on a Grid: How New York Became New York Hardcover – November 10, 2015
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Library Journal, 9/18/15
Readers curious about the growth of infrastructure in large city centers will definitely be interested in Koeppel's take.”
Internet Review of Books, 11/6/15
How can anybody have anything much to say, much less anything interesting, about a batch of horizontal and vertical lines? Turns out, there's quite a lot to sayandit's interesting!”
Open Letters Monthly, 11/6/15
Anyone who's ever spent any substantial amount of time in Manhattan has personally, viscerally felt the subject of Gerard Koeppel's new book City on a Grid As Koeppel points out, nobody has written about the grid before. But what it lacks in antecedents, City on a Grid makes up in sheer zest of storytelling The history uncovered and explored in these pages is uniformly fascinating, but the real high point of City on a Grid is Koeppel's meditation on what a grid arrangement means at its heart Anyone who's ever felt the grid slowly clarifying inside their own head should read this fantastic book and find out how it all came to be.”
Koeppel brings a disarming wit Keeping the narrative light on its feet and keeping his targets well within range, Koeppel resists the urge of too many modern historians to inflate their topic.”
Portland Book Review, 1/25/16
An engaging account Koeppel takes the reader on a historic journey through the early beginnings of New York, when there were literally no streets and little to no understanding of how to move forward. In order to make sense of it all, Koeppel has had to dig deep in piecing together this relative untold story, unearthing captivating facts and stories that not only bring to life the New York grid system and its origins but also the characters that built it A fascinating book in understanding the history of the grid system, why it's the way that it is, and its role in helping shape New York into the incredible city that we know today.”
Midwest Book Review, February 2016
With its powerful survey of the politics, urban planning issues, city-building approaches, and social atmosphere of its times, City on a Grid is not only a 'must' for any interested in how New York evolved, but for any with a special interest in urban planning history.”
Phi Beta Kappa's The Key Reporter, 3/8/16
"Paul Goodman, America's own grand and innovative social thinker called for a new genre of letters, one that City on a Grid will augmentthe urban pastoral, celebrating the infrastructure of the city such as its methods of transportation and building while reminding us of its dependency on the majesty of nature.”
Roanoke Times, 1/17/16
Koeppel is the very best sort of writer for this sort of history. The book is chock-a-block with stories about New York City Koeppel's style is entertaining with clever plays on words and inventive descriptions, and his treatment of New York history betrays his love for the city. By extension, this wonderful story has relevance to most U.S. cities Koeppel puts us in touch with our financial and cultural roots by following the birth of urban planning and providing a glimpse into how New York's urban planning became a blueprint for cities across the nation.”
San Francisco Book Review, 1/21/16
New Yorkers will likely relate to the entire book, but readers interested in the effects of urbanization anywhere will find the latter chapters of the book meaningful.”
David Duchovny, actor, author, native New Yorker
"I've spent most of my life walking the straight lines of the world's greatest city and have never thought to ask: Is this a different shape from other cities, and if so, why, and who did it? Koeppel's book answers these questions, in an easygoing, good-humored manner, with interesting facts unearthed on nearly every page. This is one of those books you always wished would be written, and here it is. Indispensable for anyone interested in the history of New York and cities generally, and bound to fuel cocktail conversations up, down, and across the city for years to come."
Kirkus Reviews, 8/15/15
"For Manhattanites, surely, and for anyone who's visited and been either charmed or overwhelmed by the grid.”
Publishers Weekly, 9/14/15
A look at the story behind the development of New York City's extraordinary 1811 street grid plan, which defined the urbanism of a rising city and nation.' [An] expert investigation into what made the city special Koeppel's bold commentary on the constant evolution of Gotham may stir controversy in some quarters, but he unabashedly celebrates the metropolis that has never learned what it means to grow old or stale.”
The New Yorker, 10/5/15
"Tells the too little-known tale of how and why Manhattan came to be the waffle-board city we know."
Advance Praise for City on a Grid
Kate Ascher, author of The Works: Anatomy of a City
"Rarely does one come across a book that makes you rethink the city you thought you knew.... Koeppel's masterful story-telling does that and more."
Justin Martin, author of books about a pair of New York eminences, Walt Whitman and Frederick Law Olmsted
"If Manhattan has a subconscious, it's the angular numbered street plan that, for two centuries, has informed the island's destiny. Koeppel does a masterful job of telling the little-known story behind this humble yet hallowed grid. Along the way, he introduces a vivid cast of characters and spins some lively anecdotes. A thoroughly enjoyable read, and one that will cause you to view Manhattan with fresh eyes."
Planetizen, 12/12/15, Top 10 Books of 2015”
New York City has a large number of urban obsessivespeople who hoard information about the city's every block, neighborhood, street, and building. City on a Grid is a book by one of those people, and for all of those people With such a complete telling of the grid's history of surveys, plans, politics, and designs, it could be that Koeppel has left very little for future historians of the grid to relate to readers.
The grid of New York, as the book shows, is a captivating and deeply rich subject.”
News @ Wesleyan, 12/10/15
Readers who are fans of urban history and planning or have a particular interest in New York should find City on a Grid by Gerard Koeppel '79 a fascinating read.”
A specialty book on New York City for general readers The author writes with obvious affection for the city.”
Milwaukee Shepherd-Express, 12/15/15
Koeppel brings poetry to a seemingly prosaic topic, rejoicing over every numbered avenue that gained a name and wondering whether the city's spirit of rationalism will gradually make way for a more organic way of life.”
The Bookworm Sez, 11/10/15
A must-give It's the story of how the City That Never Sleeps became what it is; specifically, how swampy fieldsa farming area, basicallybecame the Big Apple in only a few centuries.”
Manhattan User's Guide, 11/11/15
Makes the clear-cut case thatwhether you like the grid or notit has more daily impact on millions of people than almost any other urban plan you can name.”
New York Journal of Books, 12/1/15
A fascinating and curious story that takes us back through time to the early beginnings of the city It is also a drama that delves into the lives and travails of the original surveyors who mapped the island and saw it not for the city that it was, but the metropolis that it would become A well-researched ambitious tale of intrigue intertwined with political significance Koeppel tantalizes with little known facts A fun, fascinating, and accessible read for those curious enough to delve into the origins of an amazing city.”
Under the Radar, 12/4/15
Read City on a Grid as a technical how to (or how not to) on urban planning. Read it as a tale of our forefathers. Read it as a morality tale, emblematic of how we as a nation have put money, caste, and power before beauty, skill, and efficiency.”
The Bowery Boys, 12/22/15, Ten Favorite New York City History Books of 2015”
Koeppel takes us into the motivations for creating this mighty, orderly system and the methods in which they were plowedsometimes violentlythrough the topography of New York. Even its imperfections (like that original lack of a large open space) are fascinatingly told here.”
New York Times Book Review, 1/10/16
The best account to date of the process by which an odd amalgamation of democracy and capitalism got written into New York's physical DNA.”
Washington Book Review, 1/5/16
Koeppel explains the history of New York like nobody has done before A fascinating and unique read A must read for every New Yorker and anyone who loves New York.”
Wesleyan University, Roth on Wesleyan” blog, 1/12/16
[A] fascinating book [Koeppel's] understanding of New York's gridded past should inform any plans to create a more sustainable city for tomorrow.”
InfoDad blog, 11/25/15
[Koeppel's] book is a history lesson, which is all to the good Readers who share Koeppel's relishing of the ins and outs of this subject will find his narrative compelling New York likes to think of itself as the trendsetter for the United States, and Koeppel's book shows that to be true in important ways where urban design is concerned Koeppel clearly loves New York, but is honest enough to detail both the pluses and minuses of the design that, as his subtitle indicates, made Manhattan what it is today.”
New York Times, 12/13/15
Prodigiously researched Koeppel [is] an engaging storyteller.”
Wall Street Journal, 12/13/15
Koeppel's ventures into early-19th-century political malfeasance are intriguing [His] narrative is breezy and highly readable.”
About the Author
Gerard Koeppel is the author of Bond of Union: Building the Erie Canal and the American Empire and Water for Gotham: A History. He has contributed to numerous other books, including the Encyclopedia of New York City, of which he was an associate editor. Before writing mostly about the past, he wrote, edited, and produced the present at CBS News. He was born on the grid and has lived all over it since.
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Top Customer Reviews
Prior to reading Gerard Koeppel’s City on a Grid I read an earlier book called The Greatest Grid, which includes photographs of Manhattan when it was just farmland. While the earlier book is strictly visual, City on a Grid dives into the scientific origins of America’s gridded cities. Koeppel gives a more historical bend on the grid, which originated in Europe. It was a circular form that would begin with a fort on a hill (typical of Europe) and the town would be settled around it in a circular formation. The difference, according to the author, is that European cities were rarely confined to an island like Manhattan. I don’t necessarily agree with this, because Venice is an island and the streets are somewhat gridded, though the alleys are hard to navigate. However, compared to Manhattan, Venice is a labyrinth. The Paris of today has its origins in urban planning, when Baron Haussmann bulldozed through the Victor Hugo Paris of alleys and warrens in favor of spacious boulevards. The older streets, left untouched, still follow the old pattern.
The first chapters of the book discuss political wrangling and finance problems, because in the early days of the nation, Congress had less authority to tax the people, so it was harder to get Federal money for anything. As for the city, the streets of downtown Manhattan used the old English survey, which what they still follow. Try navigating below City Hall Park and you’ll find yourself in a rabbit warren. Koeppel also goes into the origin of the names, such as Delancey, a pro-Loyalist banker who had his lands confiscated, and the Bowery, originally Pete Stuyvesant’s “boerie,” or farm. Canal Street wasn’t really a canal, as the name suggests, but a drainage ditch for the polluted Collect Pond. If you’re interested in how the streets got their names, there are many websites devoted to city street necropsy.
Much of the city’s grid had to do with the need for housing. Tall buildings were unpopular in the days before elevators, and it was the gradual development of steel girders, heavy equipment, and elevator safety brakes that made the skyscrapers possible. These building projects would not have been possible if they weren’t on a grid. Like I said before, finance was a big part of it, because businessmen needed the large buildings. Neither the wealthy nor the poor wanted smelly ponds and canals, so there was both financial and political incentive to fill them in. Yet in the end, the biggest obstacle is always where to get the money. At no time in history did the Americans ever like taxes.