SoHo, New York, July 25, 2017
“The prevailing wisdom among today’s planners is that it is important to honor the land’s contours, which only goes to show how visionary the city fathers were: they created a New York as eccentrically “intentional” as St. Petersburg, a madly rational scheme imposed on nature. Nor did they have any use for the circles, ovals, and other geometric interventions so loved by Europeans. The commissioners loved the ninety-degree angle, the forthright, egalitarian plod of rectangle after rectangle, extended indefinitely: they would have gridded the sea and stars if given the chance.
One reason the city fathers liked the grid was that it facilitated the orderly sale and development of property. While one hears the Manhattan grid disparaged today as merely a capitalist device for real-estate speculation, to me it is a mighty form, existential metaphor, generator of modernity, Procrustean bed, call it what you will, a thing impossible to overpraise. The architect Rem Koolhaas called it “the most courageous act of prediction in Western Civilization.” It inspired Mondrian, Sol Lewitt, Agnes Martin, and that’s good enough for me.”
Phillip Lopate in Waterfront: A Journey Around Manhattan (2004)