Like many American cities planned in the 19th century, central Birmingham is designed around a rectangular, regular grid system of wide streets and avenues. The most famous example of how an orthogonal grid shaped the future of a city is found in Manhattan, where John Randel presented his map of the island (at that point mainly covered with farms and cow paths) in 1811.
This map, audacious at the time for imagining a pastoral island completely gridded and developed, is the subject of a great article and multimedia piece in the Times. The above engraving shows how the new streets cut across existing farmland and house lots, often leaving structures in a precarious structural state. New York being New York, these older houses were torn down quickly for new development to accommodate a rapidly growing city.
Happy 200th birthday, NYC grid!
[Pic courtesy New York Times]