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The History of Grid Plan Cities: From Mohenjo-Daro and Timgad of Rome to Manhattan

Urban planning has evolved significantly over the human history, with the grid plan standing out as one of the most enduring and influential designs. A grid plan is a type of city layout where streets run at right angles to each other, forming a grid. This design's inherent characteristics, such as frequent intersections and orthogonal geometry, facilitate movement, improve orientation and wayfinding, and offer multiple route choices to desired destinations.

Ancient Beginnings: Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa

The roots of the grid plan can be traced back to ancient civilizations. By 2600 BC, the major cities of the Indus Valley civilization, including Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa, were constructed with blocks divided by a grid of straight streets running north-south and east-west. Each block was further subdivided by small lanes, showcasing an advanced understanding of urban planning and organization. These cities exemplify early human ingenuity in designing urban spaces that promoted efficient movement and access.

Plan of houses and streets, Mohenjo-daro

The Roman Influence: Timgad

Timgad was a Roman city in the Aurès Mountains of Algeria. Founded around 100 CE by Emperor Trajan, Timgad was intended as a military colony to serve as a Roman bastion against the Berbers in the nearby Aurès Mountains. The city was populated largely by Roman veterans and colonists who, despite never having seen Rome, were imbued with Roman culture and identity. The grid plan of Timgad exemplified Roman urban planning principles, emphasizing order, uniformity, and connectivity.

City of Timgad

The Modern Era: Manhattan

One of the most well-known grid plans in the modern era is the plan for New York City, formulated in the Commissioners' Plan of 1811. This proposal by the state legislature of New York aimed at the development of most of Manhattan above Houston Street. The grid plan facilitated the rapid and organized growth of one of the world's most iconic cities. Its influence extended beyond New York, inspiring the layout of numerous other U.S. cities, including Austin, Atlanta, Birmingham, Charlotte, Chicago, Cincinnati, Columbus, Dallas, Indianapolis, Houston, Jacksonville, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Orlando, Philadelphia, Raleigh, San Francisco, Washington D.C., and many more.

An 1893 redrawing of the 1807 version of the Commissioners' grid plan for Manhattan, a few years before it was adopted in 1811

Benefits of the Grid Plan

The grid plan's benefits in urban planning are numerous. Its frequent intersections and orthogonal geometry facilitate movement and provide multiple route choices to desired destinations. This design improves accessibility and can reduce congestion by distributing traffic more evenly across the network. The straight streets and right-angle intersections enhance orientation and wayfinding, making navigation easier for both residents and visitors.

Furthermore, the grid plan promotes a sense of order and regularity, which can be aesthetically pleasing and conducive to a sense of community. It also allows for efficient land use and can accommodate future growth and changes more flexibly than more irregular layouts.


The history of grid plan cities from ancient Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa, through Roman Timgad, to modern Manhattan, highlights the enduring appeal and practicality of this urban design. Its benefits in facilitating movement, improving orientation, and promoting efficient land use make the grid plan a timeless choice in urban planning. As cities continue to grow and evolve, the grid plan remains a foundational concept, guiding the development of organized, accessible, and livable urban spaces.

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