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kottke.org posts about Miles Zhang

Here Grows New York City, a Time Lapse of NYC’s Street Grid from 1609 to the Present

posted by Jason Kottke   May 06, 2019

Using geological surveys, geo-referenced road network data, and historic maps drawn the from the collections of the Library of Congress and New York Public Library, Miles Zhang made this time lapse video of the development of the street grid of NYC from 1609 (when Henry Hudson first explored the area for the Dutch) to the present day.

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.

Zhang has written up his research methodology for the video as well as some observations and analysis of the data.

For almost the first half of Manhattan’s history, walking was the primary means of transport. This preference was manifested in the shorter distances between residential, industrial, shipping, and commercial areas — and more frequently their overlap. With street systems, the reliance on the foot is manifested in narrower streets widths not designed to accommodate greater width from carriages, trolleys, and later cars. In fact, the average width of secondary arterial streets increased from 30 feet for streets opened between 1624-1664, to 45 feet for streets opened 1664-1811, and then a uniform width of 60 feet for any cross street opened after 1811. Later widenings increased many of these smaller and pre-1811 streets to width between 100 and 130 feet. In other words, moving from the older networks in the south to newer networks in the north, the width of streets and size of blocks generally increases. These new widths might be influenced by growing population size from only 25,000 in the 1770s, to 64,000 by 1811, and 247,000 by 1834, thereby requiring wider streets for expanding population and higher buildings.

These gradual changes in planning reflected increasing reliance on carriages and horse-drawn trolleys instead of walking. Each mode of transport required a different minimum street width and was associated with different speeds.

(via @john_overholt)