Does the very geography of Manhattan make it more inviting to immigrants and other newcomers?
The idea came up during a long walk I took down Broadway with Becky Cooper, the author of “Mapping Manhattan,” and Adam Gopnik of The New Yorker, who wrote the introduction.
“Mapping Manhattan” is a crowdsourcing project that uncovers the intense emotional associations New Yorkers have with the island. Becky wandered about the city, handing out blank maps to people on the street and asking them to scrawl away. She also roped in celebrity contributors, like Yoko Ono and Australian supermodel Nicole Trunfio.
Love came up, as did sex, hate, prostitution, death, and Patricia Marx’s lost gloves.
But on our walk, we kept returning to geography, and the street grid that defines Manhattan.
“The grid plan that makes New York so distinct is one that in a certain sense cancels personality,” said Gopnik. “Whereas Paris and London are both, in a certain sense, organic cities, they’ve grown up over a long period of time. The irrationality of their structure is a reflection of that long history, that’s why you need to take 2 years to learn how to become a taxi driver in London. New York has a super impersonal plan. But it takes on a private impress. That corner on the absolutely rectilinear grid, of 23rd and Broadway, becomes your corner.”
“I feel like the grid pattern actually invites personality,” said Cooper, “because of how non-specific it is. Because the second you come here you feel you own a part of it. There isn’t this barrier to entry, there isn’t this exclusivity of the person who’s grown up here.”