What If Manhattan Were Designed Like Paris?

A digital design class at Columbia University has led to some provocative questions about New York City. The below work by Charles-Antoine Perrault destabilizes our conception of Manhattan, which we so strongly associate with the street grid. But what if the early city planners had envisioned a city with the grand boulevards of Paris? It happened in Washington D.C. and Detroit, so why not New York?

What if Manhattan Designed like Paris-NYC-Charles PerraultBuy a print at our Society6 shop!

This “photograph” also shows that Central Park is enough of an identifier (along with the Manhattan Google Maps bubble of course), to retain our sense of geolocation.  Charles-Antoine is from Paris, and in his homage to two great cities he says, “I covered Manhattan with Paris Left Bank streets. You might recognise Gare Montparnasse on the right and the Invalides in the top left corner. Pretty fun to imagine New Yorkers lost in Manhattan without their grid!” Fellow student Alex Wallach then took the concept and superimposed Paris onto the famous 1807 Commisioners’ street grid plan.

And in another piece,  Alex  takes an 1859 rendering of Central Park with the perspective stretching out into the hinterland of New York and New Jersey and superimposes the Manhattan of today. It demonstrates not only man’s domination of nature, but also visually conveys the foresight of the New York City Board of Commissioners. By anticipating the rapid urbanization of New York and planning to save open space, they benefited the many generations since and the ones to come. I bet in the fancy speak of that era, they would have said they were doing it “for posterity,” and they were right!

For more fun with Google Maps, check out the hidden Bushwick airplane article from Untapped that started it all…

Buy the Paris-NYC mashup map at our Society6 shop! Get in touch with the author  @untappedmich.

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18 Responses
  1. Washington and Detroit have grids on which diagonal boulevards are imposed. What they have come up with for Manhattan is haphazard and illogical. FAIL, as the kids say.

  2. It seems that grids are sort of out of fashion and twisty, random street patterns are more romantizaed these days, but I wonder if what the pros and cons are between the two and whether there are “best practices” in the current urban design scholarship…

    I guess it made sense to do Manhattan as a grid due to its shape, but what about a Queens with boulevard spokes radiating out of the Worlds Fair Globe? (=

    • michelle young Reply

      I think an interesting article would be to compare the areas that were designed with grand boulevards in Paris–including Queens and Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn. Hmm! 🙂

  3. But what if the early city planners had envisioned a city with the grand boulevards of Paris? It happened in Washington D.C. and Detroit, so why not New York?

    The Grand Concourse in the Bronx is often compared to the Champs- Élysées.

    • michelle young Reply

      You’re absolutely right! One of the main differences off the top of my head is that the Champs- Élysées is more centrally located.

  4. Albert Lopez Reply

    Tickles the mind, but I must say that Manhattan’s narrowness would have constricted the possibilities of such a plan/lack of plan. Paris was on the campagne. However…such a plan could only mean that I could run into my favorite burger place and patisserie in a few short steps…hmmm…Good Lord…THE GASTRONOMIC POSSIBILITIES OF THIS FUSION OF CITIES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! BRILLIANT!!!!!!!!!!!!

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