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 April 10, 2000

Honors Student to Present
Research Paper in Ireland

An undergraduate term paper on New York City's grid system has turned into an internationally sought-after research paper for English major Philip Deslippe.

Deslippe, a senior in the honors program who is also taking a minor in American studies, has been invited to present his paper, "Chaos and Control: The Literary Response to the New York City Grid System," at an interdisciplinary conference in Cork, Ireland, at the end of this month. He will be one of 80 presenters at the conference on "The City and the Sublime," drawn from across Europe and the United States.

Deslippe, who hopes to go on to graduate school to study for a doctorate, says he has no experience of scholarly conferences but welcomes the opportunity. He still can't quite believe his luck. "I stumbled into this," he says.

The concept of the paper took root after Deslippe saw a 1998 documentary, "The Cruise," about Timothy "Speed" Levitch and his experiences as a tour guide in New York City.

Deslippe went on to read novels and tour guides about New York City, as well as to explore the history of the city's development and to venture into Cartesian philosophy and the concepts of geometry and moral order. Gradually, the paper he had to write for Professor Robert Tilton's class, "Introduction to American Studies," began to take shape.

"Historically, the grid system was a colonial tool," Deslippe says. "It enabled the colonizers to know their way around any city and construct their own order."

The original plan for New York City, he says, dates back to an 1811 Commissioner's plan for the development of Manhattan Island.

After World War II, the layout of New York City "reflected the capitalist, alienated culture that created it," he says.

"The planners thought that if the city was orderly, they could somehow control it," he says.

When Deslippe's term paper ran to 17 pages instead of 10, Tilton was delighted, and encouraged him to develop his ideas still further.

So Deslippe arranged to interview Levitch, the man whose movie got him started. "I tried to find the café in Greenwich Village where we arranged to meet, but the streets were winding, with no letters or numbers, and I got lost," Deslippe says.

"It's interesting to see how your experiences vary from one part of New York City to another," he says. "We experience street layout but we don't really think about it."

According to Deslippe, Levitch claims the grid system "emanates from our failures as a society. He equates straight lines with people living their lives along straight lines, without thinking for themselves."

Before leaving New York City, Deslippe went on a walking tour with Levitch that lasted into the early hours of the morning. He also spent some time in the architecture library at

Columbia Library, doing research on city development plans to incorporate into his paper.

Deslippe says sending the abstract of his paper to the organizer of the conference in Cork was a shot in the dark. He didn't really expect to hear back.

Once his paper was accepted, however, Kathy Usher, director of UConn's Office of Undergraduate Research helped him secure funding from three different University sources to cover his travel expenses.

Deslippe also will present his paper to the University community at next weekend's Forum for Undergraduate Research and at a May 10 session for individualized majors.

And Tilton is encouraging him to submit the paper to a scholarly journal or perhaps develop it into a book.

After graduating in May, Deslippe plans to spend a year traveling - maybe to India or Japan. "I'll probably just stumble into it," he says.

His travels may not follow a straight line but, judging from Deslippe's paper, his "stumbling" could lead him somewhere interesting.

Elizabeth Omara-Otunnu