Before presentation, ask: What do you imagine the island of Manhattan looked like when the Dutch first arrived and established New Amsterdam in 1624? What types of paths or roads might have existed?
Show Slide 1, The Castello Plan of 1660. Ask: Why did the Dutch settle at the tip of Manhattan Island? What were the transportation needs as New Amsterdam grew and became New York? What items had to be moved? (Note: The wall on the right-hand side is located at present-day Wall Street.)
Show Slides 2 and 3, The Ratzer Plan of 1766-1767. What do you notice? What does the landscape look like? What types of transportation might be needed now? (Students should by now be able to see the agricultural use both in Manhattan and the surrounding area, and also note that the city is still confined to the tip of the island.)
Show Slide 4, New York City in 1808. What has happened to the streets now? (Students should be able to discern grid-like patterns, but note that they don’t match up at key places. How does that impact getting around the city? Remind students that there were no smartphones with GPS, nor traffic lights to organize traffic flow!)
Show Slide 5, Quote from Washington Irving. How do we know that it was difficult moving through the city? (Encourage students not to get bogged down on language, but think rather how the jumbled syntax and nonsensical words help mimic the state of things in New York before the institution of gridded streets.)
Show Slide 6, Commissioners Plan of 1811. What might be the reasoning for the grid-like development of NYC as the city grew into the 19th century? Have students use spatial reasoning to think why straight streets and predictable numbering systems are important.
Slide Show Conclusion: Students should understand that New York’s gridded streets were the result of careful planning, in which a top-down commission was empowered by the city government to solve a key problem of moving around the city. This transition is key as we ask students to think of themselves as problem-solvers: how can we solve the problem of gridlock today? What steps need to be taken and who should direct them? (Note: Making the Grid a reality was far from peaceful. For more details, see the Museum’s “Greatest Grid” online exhibition.)