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Here Grows New York visually animates the development of this city’s street grid and infrastructure systems from 1609 to the present day, using geo-referenced road network data, historic maps, and geological surveys. The resulting short film presents a series of “cartographic snapshots” of the built-up area at intervals of every 20-30 years in the city’s history. This process highlights the organic spurts of growth and movement that typify New York’s and most cities’ development through time. The result is an abstract representation of urbanism.

The following articles also describe this project:
6sqft
Kottke.org
Library of Congress Blog
– Open Culture
Viewing NYC
silive.com

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1. The Animation

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2. Research Methodology

Several hundred maps in the digital archives of the Library of Congress and New York Public Library were analyzed to assemble this film. About 25 of these maps were then selected, downloaded, merged, stretched, and warped in a single document to align with each other. This provided a consistent scale and allowed easier comparison of differences between maps of different date. As the source files were all in different colors, scales, and designs, we created a single base map with unified graphics. “The redrawing not only facilitates the review and correction of errors in the old cartographies, less accurate, but also provides a graphic representation that is consistent throughout all the stages. This coherence allows the cartographies to be real in parallel and compare the transformations experienced by the city.”*

Click here to read the research methodology as a working paper.

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*Similar animation projects exist for Barcelona and London, from which this project is inspired.

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3. Conclusions and Data Analysis

This data visualization informs our analysis of the history of the New York City grid. And, this analysis helps answer the following question: What can the built environment of Manhattan’s streets reflect about the evolving social and economic priorities of city planners and leaders? The long phases of urban growth and shifting transportation modes created distinctive road networks in Manhattan. The predominance of different forms of transport during each era also prompted changes to the location and dimensions of streets in response. Manhattan illustrates the evolution of these road networks over four centuries of near continuous growth. A plot can describe a street grid, as well as its builders’ story. This paper aims to tell this second plot, a story.

Click here to read the working paper.

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4. Credits and Appendix

This project would not have been possible without the support, mentorship, and patience of my parents, Anne and Zemin. Nor would this project have been possible without the historical expertise of Columbia University professors Kenneth Jackson (History Department) and Gergely Baics (Urban Studies). Thanks is also extended to those who reviewed and critiqued this project in its early stages, including Darius Sollohub, Ellen Quinn, Chris Kok, Robert Beauregard, Wright Kennedy, Dan Miller, and the Center for Spatial Research at the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation (GSAPP).Most importantly, I thank my dog ChoiChoi.

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Those seeking to share this project to their website or organisation are kindly requested to please contact the author at [email protected] before publication. We will gladly send along the graphics, maps, and image source files associated with this animation, provided recipients use this information for non-commercial purposes. Pre-production and image editing were conducted in Photoshop with post-production and audio editing in Final Cut Pro. For this project, we worked from a mid-2014 MacBook Air with 4GB RAM and 1,440 by 900 pixel display.

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Pictured below is one frame selected from Here Grows New York: an interactive map of NYC’s population and density from the year 1900. Notice the high density areas of the Lower East Side in bright red, at over 300,000+ persons per square mile. No other American city (and perhaps world city) had a neighborhood as dense in 1900. Over following decades, this area gradually lost density to arrive at its current 2010 density of 87,104 persons per square mile – a mere third of its height. Despite appearances and despite the presence of many more skyscrapers today than in 1900, Manhattan is actually less dense and more spread out than at any other time in the past century. Through projects in the digital humanities and through computer simulations of urban history, we can visualise spatial trends that otherwise remain abstract and invisible.

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Population density map of the five boroughs, from the 1900 US census here.

 

Map showing extent of industrial areas in 1919. Click here for source file.

 

7 Comments

  1. Hello Myles,
    I enjoyed your wonderful animated New York development. Worthwhile watching and a good example for how to use information. Thank you for sharing this.
    Andreas

    • Hello Andreas,
      Thank you for your kind words! I’m delighted you enjoyed watching. You’re welcome to reuse this research and data. Cheers.
      – MZ

  2. This is an exceptional project that demonstrates so clearly the evolution of a great city over centuries. I will use this to inform my classes about the process of development. The technology that allows this is fantastic, but your creativity and curiosity are the true marvels.

  3. Beautifully done, Myles! I loved the subtle score, the superb quotations, and the overall pacing, along with the state-of-the-art cartography.

  4. This is amazing I would love to see a video about the railroad systems and Indianapolis. Definitely will be checking your videos out for now on.

  5. Quite interesting! The animation compels me to research the vast stories and history of NYC through this time to enrich and fill in the human element that is the backbone to the maps.
    Thanks.

  6. Harald Johnson

    Nicely done! And also like soundtrack. But a couple of questions/thoughts:

    1. For the 1609-1624 segment, you’re using the Mannahatta Project/Wildlife Conservation Society map from Dr. Eric Sanderson and Markley Boyer. Yet I see no credit given to them.

    2. Your subtitle for 1624 says: “Dutch traders first settle the region.” This is a little ambiguous. Traders don’t “settle,” they trade. In fact, the first settlers of 1624-1625 were French-speaking Walloons (a part of today’s Belgium) but under the control of the Dutch West India Company, i.e., the “Dutch” or more accurately: the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands. And, interestingly, the man who “purchased Manhattan for $24 worth of glass beads” (Pieter Minuit) in 1626 was also a Walloon, working as the Dutch colonial Director-General of New Netherland, which included New Amsterdam or later: New York.

    Harald Johnson
    Author, NEW YORK 1609: A Novel

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