The year is 1811, President James Madison is in office, the automobile wasn't invented yet and the area that is known to be New York is an empty plot of land. A recent story by the NY Times revealed a story of how the city's grid and mapping transformed the city we all know today....
The grid was the great leveler. By shifting millions of cubic yards of earth and rock, it carved out modest but equal flat lots (mostly 25 by 100 feet) available for purchase. And if it fostered what de Tocqueville viewed as relentless monotony, its coordinates also enabled drivers and pedestrians to figure out where they stood, physically and metaphorically.
The city planners created straight and wide streets because they didn't want crooked and narrow ones in case of fires. They also wanted New York houses to be "straight-sided and right-angled" as they were "the most cheap to build and the most convenient to live in."