Most everyone loves travel. Travel usually equals vacation, and vacation is for simpler things than the day-to-day hustle involves – think relaxing, exploring, eating yourself into a food coma, enjoying the occasional cocktail – the good stuff. But what if we could travel in a way that wasn’t just from point A to point B? What if we could turn back the clock to simpler times? If you haven’t picked up on it yet, I’m talking the always interesting but so far elusive concept of time travel. Tick tock.
Time travel, of course, is still mainly for stellar 80s movies and modern-day box office duds (plus some pretty interesting novels, of course). Like usual, though, humans are itching to take it to the next level. We’ve already resorted to calling every dimly lit bar that exists a “speakeasy” and making them hard to find for the fun of it…how else can we transport ourselves back to the good ol’ days?
It seems New York City has an answer (after all, when does it not?). And just how is New York planning to propel passersby into the past? With help from maps – more precisely, Google Maps. The project hails from the New York Public Library and is called Maps by Decade. According to FastCo, it will be a tool that “allows users to find and use the library’s sizable digital collection with a timeline that puts old maps in the context of New York’s contemporary urban landscape. In the case of Coney Island, for example, one can click into the 1870s portal, scroll your mouse over Coney Island, and pull up an 1879 map that shows sprawling seaside neighborhoods and scattered luxury hotels along the railroad.”
You see, there’s some charm that’s been left in the past – especially when you look at places such as New York City, which have only gotten busier, dirtier, and crazier with time. There was a time, as far-fetched as it might seem, where Coney Island was a postcard destination – a light at the end of the subway tunnel, if you will. In today’s world, of course, that can be hard to picture – since now Coney Island is overrun by long lines and tourists instagramming their Nathan’s famous hotdog.
Maps by Decade aims to bring relief for the ache of nostalgia for New York’s past, as well as, perhaps even more importantly, allowing scholars and those doing urban history research access to a “digital time-travel service” that exists in the form of an interactive platform with decades’s worth of digitized maps and geospatial data. The system incorporates over 5,000 large-scale maps, all of which are then organized by decade and placed into an up-to-date map of NYC. FastCo praises the project, stating:
“Maps by Decade allows for a sense of discoverability by putting the old maps into a contemporary context – allowing users to click around in boroughs and neighborhoods within a certain decade.”
Bert Spaan, an engineer at the New York Public Library and one of the key developers of the project, says that one of the favorite places he’s” time-traveled” to is Long Island City, circa 1909. Back then it was “an industrial town of silos, train tracks, and ferry ports.”
If the past is calling, perhaps you should mosey into New York City for a stroll down memory lane by way of Google Maps. Perhaps other cities will be next. Washington DC on a fine summer’s day – a stroll by the White House in the ‘20s – this could all be possible. My only concern (and I can’t be alone here) is this: If you spend the day in the past, how will you Instagram about it?