In early February, Paris-born planning student Charles Perrault began his first assignment for an urban digital design class. Charles decided to overlay his native city’s maze of streets onto Manhattan’s rigid grid. The image caught the eye of fellow planner Michelle Young, who posted the image to her blog Untapped New York. In a few hours, the image had gone viral — AM New York published Charles’ Manhattan in the next morning’s paper.
URBAN caught up with Charles and Michelle to hear their thoughts on the experience.
URBAN: Charles, what gave you the idea for your image?
Charles: Well there was no particular concept behind this. It was like…the grid for me is shocking. But for most American people, I think it is a given. They don’t think about it. But for me, it is not obvious, it is not normal. I wanted to challenge that.
URBAN: What kind of an effect do you think the grid iron street pattern has on New Yorkers?
Charles: Well, a type of public space—a street space—changes a lot. When you have a grid, you have to always be moving, you can’t stop to breathe. In New York, you don’t want to stay on the sidewalk, and I think [the grid] is part of the explanation.
Michelle: I think maybe that’s what creates New York as a city of movement. You are always going from one place to another and that says a lot not only about the city but New Yorkers.
URBAN: Michelle, what grabbed your attention about Charles’ image?
Michelle: I saw it and immediately knew I wanted to write about it. I think New Yorkers are always interested in these quirky—what I would call quirky—topics.
URBAN: What are some differences between Paris and New York that you might relate to the street pattern?
Michelle: I’ve lived in both cities and I think when you explore Paris, there’s a real sense of discovery in a different way. It revolves around the idea of getting lost. I think everywhere I went, I would always get lost at least once. Parisians get lost.
Charles: Oh yeah, I used to get lost.
Michelle: Whereas in New York, the sense of discovery…how do I explain. It’s more like the contrast within a street block. You get the skinny building that’s left over and then you get the huge highrise. It’s that chaos of the city that you discover.
Charles: Yes, in New York when you go from one street to another, the contrast is sometimes very striking. The proximity and the contrasts are less so in Paris.
URBAN: Charles, could this image have anything to do with you feeling a little homesick?
Charles: Yeah, maybe homesickness. Or French arrogance (laughing).
by Jake Schabas