Thomas Holme’s “Portraiture of the City of Philadelphia” was prepared in 1683 for William Penn in order to promote the new colony of Pennsylvania. Although Holme drew on centuries of European urban mapping tradition, the purpose of his map was relatively new--namely the depiction of a city that did not yet exist. In instructing Holme, Penn may have been inspired in part by the various proposals to rebuild London after the Great Fire of 1666. Those called for the creation of a city with an orderly pattern of streets and broad avenues connecting large public squares and monuments. This same approach appeared more than a century later in the plan Pierre L’Enfant developed for Washington, D.C.
Penn’s idea for Philadelphia exemplified his Quaker values by showing a preference for simplicity over imposing scale. The Philadelphia plan proposed a grid of rectangular blocks extending over two square miles between the Delaware River to the east and the Schuylkill River to the west. Penn’s preferences were also reflected in the plan’s unusually large residential lots with capacious gardens, several public squares, wide major streets, and a surrounding greenbelt. Though Philadelphia itself would grow in ways that departed from its original design, the plan nevertheless fostered American taste for spaciousness in urban design.
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