Sic Transit Gloria Urbis

by Don Friedman on December 19, 2016

The 1811 Commissioners’ Plan that established the numbered street grid of Manhattan north of Houston Street (click above for a larger version) has a lot of situational flaws. Had the city remained six stories high and lower, as it was in 1811, it might have worked well even with the flaws, but the density resulting from tall-building construction doomed traffic flow on the closely-spaced narrow streets. Without non-grade mass transit (first the elevated trains, then the subway) the city would have locked up and failed.

But that’s not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about Thirteenth Avenue, which has been almost wiped off the map and will soon disappear forever. Most of it was removed to build longer piers without extending the pierheads further into the river* and the last reminding block is part of a Sanitation Department facility that is scheduled to become some form of naturalistic park.

Thirteenth was never much, but with so few north-south avenues in Manhattan, can we afford to not remember the one we’ve lost?

* This cycle, of removing land to build longer piers, was repeated some years later uptown, which is why the river shore bends inward at piers 88, 90, and 92.

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