Daniel Cassidy Arch History 732 Research Assignment #1 Physical Construction of Space Houston Street is a vast highway by Manhattan’s

standards, spanning from the Hudson River to the East River with three busy lanes of traffic tearing through in each direction. The corridor is an anomaly in the city milieu, a great asphalt rent in the otherwise tight fabric of narrow village streets typified by Belgian block pavers and brick Federal row homes. So unique is the street that it is the namesake for adjacent neighborhoods, NoHo and SoHo, abbreviations for North of Houston and South of Houston respectively. But modern day Houston was not always a major artery we know it as today. The thoroughfare is the agglomeration of three distinctly named and slightly askew but contiguous streets. East of Broadway it was named North St., as it marked the northern edge of the city, and thus the beginning of the numbering system in the Commissioners Grid plan of 1811. Between Broadway and MacDougal it was known as Houstoun St., later corrupted to Houston. At Macdougal St. it bent slightly, perpendicular to the Hudson river as it passed through historical Greenwich Village, and was known as Hammersley St. From its inception Houston was a fairly typical Manhattan cross street, traversing the island at a mere 55 feet wide. However, the expansion of industry and the advent of the automobile age brought with them sweeping changes that radically changed the layout of the street, and the city as a whole. In 1898 New York, Kings, Richmond, Westchester and Queens consolidated, forming the Greater City of New York. At the time the city employed a variety of technologies for transit, including literal horsepower, with some 200,000 equine residents, or one for every thirty human residents. Streetcars were initially pulled along in-street rails by drafthorses, and later towed along elevated tracks by latching onto a system of constantly moving steam-powered cables. Some elevated cable cars had their own steam engines, which were noisy, produced excessive vibration, depressed building values, dropped oil and cinders onto pedestrians, and cast the avenues into perpetual shadow.

and the roadway replaced over it. linking the Holland Tunnel to Midtown. It was into this dense network the Holland tunnel dumped its eager motorists looking race to Midtown or Downtown. and 3 lines. Workmen demolished extant structures and dug a trench from the former end of 7th Ave. and bent to meet the grid without changing in width or residential character. but a new wide straight avenue for automobiles. Roebling had proved the stability of suspension cable technology with the Brooklyn Bridge. The plan was aggressive. by which existing roadways were torn up or created. The village lay in between. Seventh Avenue. But Greenwich existed as a community long before the Commissioners Plan of 1811. The new avenue was not adequate for the increasing rapidly increasing traffic from automobiles.With the consolidation came ambitious and bold plans for development and interborough connections. tunnels for the subway gouged out below. In 1914.2. The Holland tunnel was completed in 1927. now known as the 1. more so than the extension of 7th Avenue. and thus expanded public transit was necessary for a burgeoning population. directly through Greenwich Village to Church Avenue. Not everybody could afford a vehicle. The plan for the new subways was intimately tied to the expansion for automobileprioritized roadways for at its inception. and in 1925 ground was broken on the Sixth Avenue extension. Its narrow streets were aligned to the river. and had expanded thereafter. burrowing under the Hudson river and disgorging a steady stream of personal automobiles into the city streets. and now “progress” was determined to find a way through. originally terminating 11th Street north of the village. including an expansive transit plan for underground subways made possible by developments in electrification. Also part of the project was the widening of Houston Avenue to allow for construction of the 6th Avenue . “Cut and Cover” was the construction method. was extended southward. and the Williamsburg and Manhattan bridges soon followed in 1903 and 1909 respectively. and called for a new straight wide street linking the terminus of 6th Avenue. indiscriminate of existing buildings or their inhabitants in the pathway. direct to Varick St also widened. Wide avenues were preexisting in Midtown and made construction of the tunnels relatively straightforward. then at West 3rd Street. The plan was not only to accommodate subway tunnels for the 7th Avenue Interborough Rapid Transit line. albeit inconvenient.

Independent Subway line. and a cross town artery. under the river and into Brooklyn. To accommodate the tracks and stations. Two triangular pedestrian islands were constructed in the intersection of Houston and 6th Ave. linking west side traffic from the tunnel to the east side. At Houston St. and commercial traffic soon clogged the formerly capacious artery. was then one of the widest streets in the city. plans commenced to widen the street once again. Until recently. and two 15 ft sidewalks with pedestrian malls. formerly a commonplace neighborhood street. In 2007 the Department of Transportation completed a modernization of West Houston Street. and ultimately reducing the overall width of the roadbed. Houston Street. doubling the width of pedestrian walkway in the exact spot where so many buildings were carved away. and thus was smashed directly through blocks and buildings. improving signals. As the new avenues opened up pathways for traffic. implementing a number of safety and traffic calming measures including widening the median. A combination of high traffic volume. long crossings. and E. Houston was widened from 55 feet to 80 feet and a new road constructed above. and West Broadway. the 6th Avenue line veered east and proceeded through the East Village. including two four-lane roadbeds. Houston was regarded as one of the most dangerous streets in the city for pedestrians and cyclists. The construction would require further acquisition of property and demolition of buildings. wide lanes. in an effort to bring shape and order to the amorphous structure left over from the chaos of the extension. In 1957. fifteen feet of new sidewalk were added to Houston between 6th Ave. narrowing of vehicle lanes. . Trucks became the dominant mode for transportation of goods. now known as the A. lax regulation. despite such an upset the calamity did not resolve there. a 10 ft median. The 6th avenue extension had no logical path to follow. This time the street would be widened to 120 ft. no parallel existing street to exploit. just two decades after mayor Fiorello Laguardia celebrated the opening of the new subway and road. In a twist of irony. and a preponderance of speeding through a dense community resulted in frequent and deadly collisions. the newly opened space inadvertently encouraged more traffic. exploiting the wide roadways. short signals. However. leaving a jumble of disjointed geometry and grid anomalies in its wake. C.

with a single building standing in space. an appropriately violent term for the triangular patches of leftover land too large to be street but too small to rebuild upon. replete with strange relics of past destruction/construction. can generate a rawness and hostility that is self-perpetuating. In other places. Caution can be exercised in favoring a certain modes of transit over others. even in the most inhospitable and poorly designed areas. and vacant plazas. The oldest sections of the 6th Avenue extension are now vibrant again. blighted by short sightedness and drained by economic opportunism. Buildings occasionally jut out at strange angles. Houston Street trees grow atypically from the centerline of the sidewalk. lacking the hodgepodge of small storefronts and eateries that line other blocks. namely at Canal and Sixth Avenue. spurred by the creation of parks and recreation areas on the sites of past destruction. The facades here are distinctly out of step with the surrounding area. as planter beds formerly curbside were preserved when the sidewalk was widened. Comically. Proper policy and planning can ensure that necessary infrastructure projects like mass transit are remediated by design. Pedestrians and residents avoid these areas. All of these forces: high volume of speeding traffic.Despite recent efforts to remedy the utilization and function of the broadened roadways. Empty streets then discourage development and encourages derelict driving. the spirited urban organism has a way of healing its wounds. bordered on one side by a river of ceaseless traffic and on the other by the blank faces of former party walls. and the street remains relatively devoid of activity. buildings close themselves to the tumult. demolition from the most recent widening left in its . broad and un-crossable roadways. a mass of a cut-through block forms an island. But the city residents are resilient and the city adapts. Portions of demapped streets now form oblique plazas. easily accessible by transit. neglected by crass and irresponsible city officials. even 50 years on in the case of Houston. a small access street named 6th Avenue branches off 6th Avenue. However. blank and disjointed street faces. they remain relatively menacing and awkward streets. fueling the cycle. the path is littered with gores. Like boulders left behind by glaciers. In this strange universe. and made delightful by the adaptation of adjacent buildings and proximity of business. isolated from the city. On Broadway and Houston. and the sidewalk is prone to odd fluctuations in width.

crucified to the adjacent structure by a projecting grid of four foot long steel girders. 67. Insurance Maps of the City of New York [map]. 66. 7. Gray. (1957. March 17. New York Times. and behind them a cerulean field. Retrieved from http://www. Amid the Giant Ad Signs. New York Times.com Bennet. 66. New York.wake one lone wall of a building. Sixth Avenue Extension. Brian. http://gvshp.nytimes. Plates 3. (1899. 1908 updated to 1922. Volume 1N & 3. 1”=600’. Sanborn Map Company. 68.” it was destruction made new. and remains today a defended and loved landmark. New Buildings Sprout. April 18). 6. 2011. 65. 42. 68. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes. (2004. Sanborn Map Company. 6. Blog of the Greenwich Village Society of Historic Preservation. 1811 Insurance Maps of the City of New York [map]. 67. New York Times. Christopher. March 26). 5. 1908 updated to 1951.com . 1”=600’. Proposal to Widen Three Thoroughfares. Charles.com Author Unknown. Plates 3. 4. 7. Sources: Map of the city of New York and island of Manhattan as laid out by the commissioners appointed by the Legislature. In 1973 Forrest Myers painted these protruding bones turquoise. Lower Manhattan Has Its Face Lifted as Road Widening Proceeds in Two Directions. New York Times.nytimes. 65. Called “The Wall.com Author Unknown.org/blog/2011/03/17/sixth-avenue-extension-before-after/. 69. 42. 4. 1807[map]. November 12). 45." Off The Grid. : William Bridges. 69. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes. 45. Retrieved from http://www. 5. "Sixth Avenue Extension: Before and After. April 3. defiance in the face of destruction. 41. Volume 1N & 3. 41. May 22). (1933.

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