One of the distinctive features of Manhattan is its grid system; its streets are straight (more or less) and its corners are echt (more or less). I grew up in a grid city (Chicago) and there is nothing like it for orienting yourself and making your way around. Chicago's system was established after Mrs. O'Leary's cow kicked over the lantern and burnt down most of downtown. New York's grid was planned from 1811 when most of the place was farms and countryside (hard to imagine)--talk about locavores. The Museum of the City of New York has an exhibit ("The Greatest Grid") celebrating the 200th anniversary of the planning that began the process and keeps us all going in our intended direction as well as leading to some of the highest real estate prices in the world. Michael Kimmelman has an ecstatic review of the exhibit and the grid--a bit over the top but fun to read.
Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages.