“I stopped at Lexington Avenue and bought a peach and stood on a corner eating it. I could taste the peach and feel the soft air blowing from a subway grating on my legs and I could smell lilac and garbage and expensive perfume”. That’s Joan Didion describing the beginning of her love affair with New York. Here’s E.B. White taking a walk on a summer night through the Lower East Side. I head east along Rivington. All is cheerful and filthy and crowded. It is folksy here with the smell of warm flesh and squashed fruit and fly bitten filth in the gutter and cooking. Notice the old factory details? New York City is and always has been a smelly city. Today, Google is full of questions like, “Why does New York City smells so bad, Why does New York City smell like pee?” Well, there are 27,000 people per square mile in New York City. These individuals sweat, cook and of course produce trash and the scent that really hits the hardest on a hot August afternoon in the city is the smell of roasting garbage. New York City’s residential trash, adds up to about 7,000 tons a day. Walk down any residential street on trash pickup day and you have to thread your way among giant garbage bergs, mounds of residential waste piled along the curb spilling over onto the sidewalk. That helps answer the questions about the smell, but this urban wasteland begs another question. “Why does New York City pile its garbage on the sidewalk?” New Yorkers put their trash out on the street and sidewalks because there aren’t alleyways where it can be stored out of the way in big bins. So why doesn’t New York City have alleys? The answer to that has to do with how the city’s grid was drawn. It is also like so many other New York City Stories about real estate. The Big Apple started out as a Dutch trading post on the very southern tip of the island. It was a jumble of haphazard meandering streets. Landowners were left to their own devices to build streets where it suited them. There was no formal city planning. There also wasn’t yet any formal plan for sanitation and let the record show people from other cities have been dogging New York for being trashy since it’s inception. In 1697, a doctor from Boston wrote of Manhattan, “Their streets are nasty and unregarded.” By this point, just after the Revolutionary War, the city was experiencing a huge population boom and was trying to organize itself. They’d created a health commission, hired some street sweepers and started naming and numbering the 90 or so existing streets. As the population increased and the economy started to take off, city leaders began to realize there was a profit to be made. The problem? Compared even with Paris and London, randomly built New York with it’s narrow, crooked streets and few and shabby public buildings was the ridicule of strangers and all persons of taste. The state legislature appointed three men as commissioners and gave them exclusive power to lay out streets roads and public squares of such width, extent and direction as to them shall seem most conducive to public good. The commissioners were Gouverneur Morris, a Founding Father, John Rutherfurd, a former US senator and the New York State surveyor general, Simeon De Witt. The only instructions they were given were that the avenues should be at least 60 feet wide and that other streets should be at least 50 feet wide. They were given four years to survey the 13 mile, 11,000 acre island and they weren’t required to give any progress reports in the interim. We do know based on their letters that by November of 1810, with only four months until their report was due, the commissioners still had not settled on a plan and yet in 1811 they presented what would become the Manhattan grid you see today. In a way, it’s funny that the grid has been so lauded as the most courageous act of prediction in Western civilization and the best manifestation of American pragmatism in the creation of urban form. Because, the 1811 commissioners plan seems to have been largely borrowed from an earlier grid and that earlier grid wasn’t meant to be a master city plan. It was drawn to help New York City make money. In the 1790’s after the Revolutionary War, the growing city needed revenue. So it’s leaders decided to sell off the land it owned. Thirteen hundred acres in central Manhattan, about nine percent of the total area of the island. In 1794, the city hired surveyor Casimir Goerck to divide the common lands into parcels that could be auctioned off. Goerck was instructed to create five acre plots and to make sure each plot had road access. He divided the common lands into 212 lots. Each lot was five acres and had street access on at least two sides. According to Gerard Koeppel, the historian who wrote the book on the Development of Manhattan’s Grid, Goerck’s map is the genesis of the 1811 grid and the city’s own Landmarks Preservation Commission said in a report that commissioners plan, borrowed heavily from Goerck’s earlier surveys and essentially expanded his scheme beyond the common lands to encompass the entire island. Now let’s get back to alleys, Goerck didn’t include alleys in his plan because he wasn’t planning a city. He was dividing up a large tract of land so that it could be sold to private owners. The Commissioners Plan of 1811 the one that became the Manhattan grid we have today, didn’t include alleys because well, the commissioners hastily copied that common lands map of 1794 or as the curator of New York City’s Tenement Museum once wrote, “Above all, the commissioners sought to level Manhattan’s natural landscape and bring every inch of the city into productive use by facilitating the sale and distribution of land through a systemic standardization.” Or as the urban planning scholar Peter Marcuse puts it, “The commissioners grid is a plane of real estate development instead of a textured urban form and is one of the worst city plans of any major city in the developed countries of the world.” Today, the New York Department of Sanitation operates a fleet of 2500 trucks and performs a truly impressive feat in keeping the city from drowning in trash. There are even proposals floating around to take a page from Barcelona’s playbook with communal dumpsters on each block or Sweden’s with pneumatic tubes and underground storage. Next thing you get a whiff of old hot gar-barge, you can think those were crass donating 1800’s commissioners. [MUSIC] Thanks for watching. Hit the comments to talk all things grids and garbage. If you liked this video, hit subscribe and hit the bell icon so you’re notified next time Cheddar puts out a new video. Thanks again and we’ll see you next time.