by Victor Davis
“This’ll be a great city once they finish building it.” -Aaron Sorkin dialog spoken by Jeff Daniels in “The Newsroom”
One of Manhattan’s enduring and farsighted design elements has been the street grid devised in 1811, in which the rural area of hills and streams northward of Houston Street was encompassed by a rectangular grid of twelve north-south avenues and 155 east-west streets. At the time “The Greatest Grid” was devised, most of the great cities of Europe were characterized by haphazardly zig-zagging streets that could be difficult to navigate, and where air currents often trapped the malodorous products of human habitation. Manhattan’s grid was devised not only to aid in way-finding but also to allow breezes to whisk unpleasant and unsanitary vapors out of town.
Though we refer to a generally northward heading as “uptown” and southward as “downtown,” and to an apartment at 95th and Central Park West as being in the “Upper West Side,” Manhattan’s street grid is actually oriented 29 degrees eastward from true north. What this means for Manhattanhenge is that the dates where the Sun sets parallel to the streets are around May 29 & 30 and July 11 &12, rather than at the equinoxes when the Sun rises and sets east/west.
Below are two views of Manhattanhenge on July 11, 2002.