Quote of the Day: Explaining Things to Nazis

manhattan-dvd

From a party scene in Woody Allen’s Manhattan, where Allen plays a writer named Isaac who, like many of us these days, seems confused that some matters are believed to still be up for discussion:

Isaac: Has anybody read that Nazis are going to march in New Jersey, you know? We should go there, get some guys together, you know, get some bricks and baseball bats and really explain things to them.

Man: There was this devastating satirical piece on that on the op-ed page of the Times. It is devastating.

Isaac: Well, a satirical piece in the Times is one thing, but bricks and baseball bats really gets right to the point.

Woman: Oh, but really biting satire is always better than physical force.

Isaac: No, physical force is always better with Nazis. It’s hard to satirize a guy with shiny boots.

Reader’s Corner: ‘City on a Grid’

Before the grid: How 2nd Avenue and 42nd Street looked in 1861. (New York Public Library)
Before the grid: How 2nd Avenue and 42nd Street looked in 1861. (New York Public Library)

Not long after the Revolutionary War, New York was still just a few hundred buildings clustered at the lower end of Manhattan. But the city’s leaders knew that eventually they’d be spreading north and needed to figure out how that would look. So they put together something called the Commissioners’ Plan. It showed an imaginary city spreading north in evenly measured blocks that acted almost as a rebuke to downtown’s (still existing today) hodge-podge of randomly angled thoroughfares and alleys. The grid seemed like a good idea, but had its problems. Among them, almost no green space (Central Park would have to be carved out decades later) and the fact that it stopped at 155th Street (the belief was that it would take “centuries” for people to start building that far north).

Gerard Koeppel’s fascinating urban history City on a Grid is on sale now. My review is at PopMatters:

Order has never been something that most people associate with New York. Among the estranged and jealous family of American cities, the old Dutch trading post that redefined the very idea of what a metropolis could be has always suffered from a reputation for chaos. And not the fun, Lord of Misrule brand of chaos witnessed in places like New Orleans, but a genuine lack of order. There is no other American city so associated with breakdowns in the body politic or general operating principles as New York…

There’s a great, extensive online exhibition about the grid from the Museum of the City of New York here.