Evolution of New York City in the 17th and 18th Centuries

Posted: March 12, 2013 in Uncategorized

This weeks assignment was to look at pictures from the earlier part of the 19th century and compare them with pictures from the mid to end part of this century.

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I am partial to maps; so the first thing I compared was the maps of New York from 1763 shown above, and an 1817 map shown below. In these two maps you can see the development of some kind of urban planning or possibly the development of survey technology. In the 1763 map the roads were more crooked, and although they appear to be laid out in a somewhat rudimentary grid pattern, it seems like it was more clumsily put together.

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But as you see in the 1817 map above, as you move more northward, the layout of the streets becomes a more precise, a straight-line grid layout. This raises a question of why in my mind. Are the original roads more askew due to original survey lines of property, i.e. larger tracts of land that were surveyed out quickly using natural landmarks as way points such as long cut down trees, or removed rocks, etc.?

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Above is a more recent map (circa 1838) and you see as time went on and more and more people moved into the area, the lines become straighter as opposed to the 1763 map. Did the use of urban planning play a part in this? Did it make it easier to sell small tracts of land, based on straight lines? Regardless, as time progressed the organization of the city became more patterned, forming the modern city we know today.

Next, I looked at the pictures and the progression of them through time. It seems that in the beginning the city is depicted almost as a sleepy community. Take the picture below. Although there is activity occurring in the picture it seems almost dream like. The background in the picture shows clear, unpolluted air, as well as wide-open spaces.

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The same can be said for the picture below. Take notice of a shoreline with no buildings anywhere in the picture. As well, there are large trees and even Native Americans standing on the shore. To me it is hard to believe this picture depicts anything even remotely close to New York City.

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However this picture below comes from the same city. This picture depicts Broadway in 1834, and it seems worlds away from the earlier pictures. Notice the open space has disappeared and even the air seems to be more polluted. Also, the seems to be a lot more transportation technology. Look at the amount of horse drawn carriages in the streets moving people and goods to and fro. With an increase in population, there will also be an increased need for transportation technology. 

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Lastly, this bottom picture is from 1852. One can see how the pristine environment of the earlier pictures is completely lost. The air looks so polluted that it could possibly be poisonous. Not only has the open spaces disappeared; it looks as though the buildings themselves are melting back into the ground due to the filth emanating from every crevice. If the earlier pictures were dreamlike, this is no doubt a nightmare.

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