Animations Visualize the Evolution of London and New York: From Their Creation to the Present Day

If you’ve ever lived in a metropolis like London or New York, you know the sometimes-disorienting feeling of experiencing several decades—or centuries—at once in the dizzying accretions of architecture, street, and park designs. Or, at least, if you’ve toured one of those cities with a longtime resident, you’ve heard them loudly complain about how everything has changed. Whether you study urban life as a historian or a city dweller, you know well that change is constant in the story of big cities.

The animations here illustrate the point on a grand scale, with a satellite’s-eye view of New York, above, from 1609 when the city was first built on Lenape land to its current configuration of five boroughs, dense thickets of high-rises, a massive, complex transportation system, and 8,600,000 residents. It ends with a quote from E.B. White that sums up the geography and vibrancy of Manhattan: “The city is like poetry: it compresses all life, all races, and breeds, into a small island and adds music and the accompaniment of internal engines.”

The New York video “animates the development of this city’s street grid and infrastructure systems,” writes its creator Myles Zhang at Here Grows New York City, “using geo-referenced road network data, historic maps, and geological surveys” to give us “cartographic snapshots” of every 20-30 years. Another project, the London Evolution Animation, uses similar techniques. But, of course, it reaches much further back in time, to over 2000 years ago when the Romans built the first road system across England and the port of Londinium.

Created in 2014, the visualization shows how the city evolved, “from its creation as a Roman city in 43AD to the crowded, chaotic megacity we see today.” As designers Flora Roumpani and Polly Hudson describe at The Guardian, the project drew from several sources, including the Museum of London Archaeology and the University of Cambridge’s engineering department. From these two institutions came “datasets from the Roman and Medieval periods as well as the 17th and early 18th centuries,” and “road network datasets from the late 18th century to today.”

Other archives offered information on the city’s historical buildings and monuments. Captions and a timeline provide a handy guide through its long history, as we watch more and more roads and buildings appear (and disappear after the Great Fire). These videos are useful references for students of urbanism, and they might give some perspective to the New Yorker or Londoner in your life who can’t stop talking about how much the city’s changed. Just imagine what these megacities could look like in another few hundred years.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

How Leonardo da Vinci Drew an Accurate Satellite Map of an Italian City (1502)

When I look at maps from centuries ago, I wonder how they could have been of any use. Not only were they filled with mythological monsters and mythological places, but the perspectives mostly served an aesthetic design rather than a practical one. Of course, accuracy was hard to come by without the many mapping tools we take for granted—some of them just in their infancy during the Renaissance, and many more that would have seemed like outlandish magic to nearly everyone in 15th century Europe.

Everyone, it sometimes seems, but Leonardo da Vinci, who anticipated and sometimes steered the direction of futuristic public works technology. None of his flying machines worked, and he could hardly have seen images taken from outer space. But he clearly saw the problem with contemporary maps. The necessity of fixing them led to a 1502 aerial image of Imola, Italy, drawn almost as accurately as if he had been peering at the city through a Google satellite camera.

“Leonardo,” says the narrator of the Vox video above, “needed to show Imola as an ichnographic map,” a term coined by ancient Roman engineer Vitruvius to describe ground plan-style cartography. No streets or buildings are obscured, as they are in the maps drawn from the oblique perspective of a hilltop or mountain. Leonardo undertook the project while employed as Cesare Borgia’s military engineer. “He was charged with helping Borgia become more aware of the town’s layout.” For this visual aid turned cartographic marvel, he drew from the same source that inspired the elegant Vitruvian Man.

While the visionary Roman builder could imagine a god's eye view, it took someone with Leonardo’s extraordinary perspicacity and skill to actually draw one, in a startlingly accurate way. Did he do it with grit and moxie? Did he astral project thousands of miles above the city? Was he in contact with ancient aliens? No, he used geometry, and a compass, the same means and instruments that allowed ancient scientists like Eratosthenes to calculate the circumference of the earth, to within 200 miles, over 2000 years ago.

Leonardo probably also used an instrument called a bussola, a device that measures degrees inside a circle—like the one that surrounds his city map. Painstakingly recording the angles of each turn and intersection in the town and measuring their distance from each other would have given him the data he needed to recreate the city as seen from above, using the bussola to maintain proper scale. Other methods would have been involved, all of them commonly available to surveyors, builders, city planners, and cartographers at the time. Leonardo trusted the math, even though he could never verify it, but like the best mapmakers, he also wanted to make something beautiful.

It may be difficult for historians to determine which inaccuracies are due to miscalculation and which to deliberate distortion for some artistic purpose. But license or mistakes aside, Leonardo’s map remains an astonishing feat, marking a seismic shift from the geography of “myth and perception” to one of “information, drawn plainly.” There’s no telling if the archetypal Renaissance man would have liked where this path led, but if he lived in the 21st century, he'd already have his mind trained on ideas that anticipate technology hundreds of years in our future.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

A Visual Map of the World’s Major Religions (and Non-Religions)

Images by Carrie Osgood

“The nones are growing,” we hear all the time, a reference to the huge increase in people who check the “none” box in documents that ask about religious beliefs. In the U.S., at least, the response to this news seems to be fivefold: fear, denial, anger, celebration, and speculation that can seem to go beyond what the data warrants. National Geographic, for example, trumpets “The World’s Newest Major Religion: No Religion,” though it’s not exactly clear what no religion means.

Checking “none” does not signify holding specific convictions or affiliations. It can be an irritated reaction from those who find the question intrusive, an evasion from those who refuse to think about the issue, a response from those whose beliefs are not reflected in any of the choices offered, a confident statement of thoroughgoing philosophical naturalism…. One way to look at the data is that it’s inconclusive.

But it could tell some big stories as well, such as “the secularizing West and the rapidly growing rest” (a story complicated by China, the country with the largest “atheist/agnostic” population). While the internet has made it easier for atheists and agnostics to connect and organize, these labels do not name any consistent set of beliefs or non-beliefs, and they can apply to secular humanists as well as to certain adherents of forms of Buddhism, Taoism, paganism, etc., who may not explicitly identify as religious but who have some spiritual practices...

But whoever they are, the “nones” do appear to be growing, accounting for around a quarter of the population in the U.S. and Europe—where in some countries, such as the Czech Republic, closer to half the population identifies as nonreligious. The story of the nones is counterbalanced by the massive spread of religion, mostly Christianity but also Islam, among the “rest” of the world. Designer Carrie Osgood of the world travel site Carrie On Adventures has given us a handy visual reference (view in a large format here) for the global situation in the infographic above.

Drawing on data from the United Nations Population Fund—which she previously used to create a series of population and urbanization maps—and from the World Religion Database, Osgood visualizes the relative populations of each country by sizing them as proportional pie charts, with their major religions represented by different colors. (These numbers are based on 2010 figures and may have changed considerably in the past decade.) Christianity is still the world’s largest religion, at 32.8%, with Islam close behind at 22.5%.

Yet as Frank Jacobs points out at Big Think, such sweeping generalizations—like those about the “nones”—miss critical details needed in any discussion about world religions. “The map bands together various Christian and Islamic schools of thought,” writes Jacobs, “that don’t necessarily accept each other as ‘true believers,’” and may even view each other as enemies and heretics. Large, thriving religious groups like Sikhs are lumped in with “others,” a category that can include numerically marginal or disappearing belief systems.

Likewise, “there’s that whole minefield of nuance between those who practice a religion (but may do so out of social coercion rather than personally held belief), and those who believe in something (but don’t participate in the rituals of any particular faith).” Especially in countries with a majority faith—and with painful social or legal penalties for those who don’t subscribe—the question of how many people really identify out of true conviction cannot be ignored.

Which brings us back to the “nones,” a category, however fuzzy, that may be far larger than the numbers show, and could include millions more in majority-faith countries, if those people lived under a secular government, in a pluralistic society, and felt free to speak their minds. The "nones" have maybe always been around. Only now, in much of the world at least, they're far more visible. But that's just one possible story among the many we can tell about this data.

View and download a larger version of the infographic map at Osgood’s site and see a detailed breakdown of the data at Big Think.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

A Visualization of the United States’ Exploding Population Growth Over 200 Years (1790 – 2010)

The U.S. is barely even an adolescent compared to many other countries around the world. Yet it ranks third, behind China and India, in population. How did the country go, in a little over 200 years, from 6.1 people per square mile in 1800 to 93 per square mile today? We’ve previously featured maps of how the real estate came on the market. And we’ve brought you a map that tells the locations and stories of the peoples who used to live there. The map above takes a different approach, showing population density growth from 1790 to 2010, in numbers based on Census records.

Originally appearing on Vivid Maps, the animated timeline contains no information about the how, who, or why of things. But we know that since it only accounts for those who were counted, the numbers of people actually living within the borders is often much higher. “Not only did the population boom as a result of births and immigrants,” writes Jeff Desjardins at the site Visual Capitalist, “but the borders of the country kept changing as well.” This change, and the fact that indigenous people were not recorded, leads to an interesting visualization of westward expansion from the point of view of the settlers.

As Desjardins notes, the state of Oklahoma appears as an “empty gap” on the map in the late-1800s, lightly shaded while its borders are surrounded by dark brown. This is because “the area was originally designated as Indian Territory…. However, in 1889, the land was opened up to a massive land rush, and approximately 50,000 pioneers lined up to grab a piece of the two million acres opened for settlement.” Thousands of the people living there had already, of course, been pushed off their land during the decades-long “Trail of Tears.” The question of who “exactly is counted as a whole person?” comes up in the comments on Visual Capitalist post, another key consideration for understanding this data in its proper context.

The ways people have been categorized are products of contemporary biases, political attitudes, and legal and social discriminations. These attitudes are not incidental to the populating of the country, but materially integral. As we see the massive, yet hugely uneven, spread of people across the expanding country, we might be given the impression that it constitutes a unified surge of expansion and development, when the historical reality, of course, is anything but. Of the many questions we can ask of this data, “who fully counted as an American during each of these periods and why or why not?” might be one of the most relevant, in 1790 and today. Or, if you’d rather just watch the map fill up with sepia and burnt umber pixels, to the tune of some martial-sounding drum & bass, watch the video above.

via Visual Capitalist

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

A Tactile Map of the Roman Empire: An Innovative Map That Allowed Blind & Sighted Students to Experience Geography by Touch (1888)

From curb cuts to safer playgrounds, the public spaces we occupy have been transformed for the better as they become easier for different kinds of bodies to navigate. Closed captioning and printable transcripts benefit millions, whatever their level of ability. Accessibility tools on the web improve everyone’s experience and provide the impetus for technologies that engage more of our senses. While smell may not be a high priority for developers, attention to a sense most sighted people tend to take for granted could open up an age of using feedback systems to make visual media touch responsive.

One such tactile system designed for Smithsonian Museums has developed “new methods for fabricating replicas of museum artifacts and other 3D objects that describe themselves when touched,” reported the National Rehabilitation Information Center in a February post for Low Vision Awareness Month. “Depth effects are achieved by varying the height of relief of raised lines, and texture fills help improve awareness of figure-ground distinctions.” Haptic feedback technology, like that the iPhone and various video game systems have introduced over the past few years, promises to open up much more of the world to the visually-impaired… and to everyone else.

One invention introduced over a century ago held out the same promise. The tactile map, “an innovation of the 19th century,” writes Rebecca Onion at Slate, “allowed both blind and sighted students to feel their way across a given geography.” One popularizer of the tactile map, former school superintendent L.R. Klemm, who made the example above, believed that “while the waterproof map could be used to teach students without sight,” it could also “fruitfully engage sighted students through the sense of touch.”

Though created in Europe, tactile maps have had a relatively long history in the U.S., debuting in 1837 with an atlas of the United States developed by Samuel Gridley Howe of the Perkins School for the Blind. (See Michigan above.) Klemm’s map up top, depicting the Roman Empire (284-476 CE), is a later entry, patented in 1888, and, he promises it's a decided improvement on earlier models. In an article that year for The American Teacher, he described “the painstaking process of creating one of these relief maps,” notes Onion, “a process he used as another teaching tool, enlisting students to help him scrape and carve plaster casts into negative shapes of mountain ranges and plateaus.”

Those students, he wrote, developed “so clear a conception of the topography and irrigation of the respective country that it can scarcely be improved.” Tactile accuracy meant a lot to Klemm. In text published alongside the map, he took Howe and other publishers to task for raising water above land, an idea “so unnatural, that the mind never thoroughly becomes accustomed to it.” Klemm also critiques a French map of “very perfect construction.” This handmade version, he says, though ingenious, is “expensive and very inefficient.” While its utility “in the case of institutions, and for the use of pupils of the wealthy classes is undoubted… the costliness of maps constructed on such a principle places the advantages of the system beyond the reach of the blind generally.”

Klemm’s concern for the quality, accuracy, utility, and economic accessibility of this early accessibility tool is admirable. And though you can’t experience it through your screen, his method is probably a vastly-improved way of learning geography for many people, sighted or not. Tactile maps did not quite become general use technologies, but their digital progeny may soon have us all experiencing more of the world through touch. View and download a larger (2D) version of Klemm's map and learn more at 19th Century Disability Cultures & Contexts.

via Slate

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Vintage Geological Maps Get Turned Into 3D Topographical Wonders

What good is an old-fashioned map in the age of apps?

One need not be a mountaineer, geoscientist, or civil engineer to get the topographical lay of the land with a speed and accuracy that would have blown Lewis and Clark’s minds’ right through the top of the lynx and otter toppers they took to wearing after their standard issue army lids wore out.

There’s still something to be said for the old ways, though.

Graphic designer Scott Reinhard has all the latest technological advances at his disposal, but it took combining them with hundred-year-old maps for him to get a truly 3-D appreciation for locations he has visited around the United States, as well as his childhood home.

A son of Indiana, Reinhard told Colossal’s Kate Sierzputowski that he found some Grand Teton-type excitement in the notoriously flat Hoosier State once he started marrying official national geospatial data to vintage map designs:

 When I began rendering the elevation data for the state, the story of the land emerged. The glaciers that receded across the northern half of the state after the last ice age scraped and gouged and shaped the land in a way that is spectacularly clear…I felt empowered by the ability to collect and process the vast amounts of information freely available, and create beautiful images.

(The government shut-down has not damaged the accuracy of Reinhard’s maps, but the U.S. Geological Survey’s website does warn the public that the effects of any earthquakes or other force majeure occurring during this black-out period will not immediately be reflected in their topos.)

(Nor are they able to respond to any inquiries, which puts a damper on holiday weekend plans for making salt dough maps, another Hoosier state fave, at least in 1974...)

As writer Jason Kottke notes, the shadows the mountains cast on the margins of Reinhard’s maps are a particularly effective optical trick.

You can see more of Reinhard’s digitally enhanced maps from the late 19th and early 20th-century, and order prints in his online shop.

via Kottke/Colossal

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  See her onstage in New York City in February as host of  Theater of the Apes book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

America at War: Infographic Reveals How the U.S. Military Is Operating in 40% of the World’s Nations

Earlier this month, NBC reporter and analyst William Arkin ended a 30-year career as a journalist, announcing in a “scathing letter,” Democracy Now! reports, that “he would be leaving the network. Arkin accuses “the media of warmongering while ignoring the, quote, ‘creeping fascism of homeland security.’” He does not equivocate in a follow-up interview with Amy Goodman. “The generals and the national security leadership" are also now, he says, “the commentators and the analysts who populate the news media” (Arkin himself is a former Army intelligence officer).

The problem isn’t only NBC, in his estimation, and it isn’t only supposed journalists cheerleading for war. Most of the conflicts the country is currently engaged in are un- or under-reported in major sources. His letter “applies to all of the mainstream networks, applies to CNN and Fox, as well…. We’ve just become so shallow that we’re not really able even to see the truth, which is that we’re at war right now in nine countries around the world where we’re bombing, and we hardly report any of it on a day-to-day basis.”

This isn’t the case with independent media organizations like Democracy Now!, The Intercept, or Airwars. Secular and religious refugee relief organizations like the International Rescue Committee, World Relief, or Muslim Global Relief are paying attention. Many of these organizations are non-U.S.-based or connected to the “civilian experts” Arkin says once appeared regularly in the national media and represented opposing views, “people who might be university professors or activists… or experts who were associated with think tanks.”

Airwars, affiliated with the Department of Media and Communications at Goldsmiths, University of London, has monitored conflicts around the world since 2014, with extensive coverage and records of alleged civilian deaths, military reports, and the names of victims. For a comparable U.S.-focused deep dive, see the Costs of War Project at Brown University’s Watson Institute of International & Public Affairs. The project’s website not only tracks the enormous economic costs of wars in the Middle East and Africa since 9/11; it also tracks “the human toll,” as you can see in the video below.

At the top of the post, see a map (view in a larger format here) from the Cost of War Project’s Stephanie Savell, 5W Infographics, and the Smithsonian of all the regions where the U.S. is “combatting terrorism.” While most of the media orgs and non-profits mentioned above would probably dispute the use of that term in some or all of the conflict zones, Savell sticks with the official language to describe the situation—one in which the nation “is now operating in 40 percent of the world’s nations," as she writes at Smithsonian.com.

Maybe no one needs an editorial to imagine the enormous toll this level of military engagement has taken over the course of 17 years since the inception of the “Global War on Terror.” The map covers the past two, illustrating “80 countries, engaged through 40 U.S. military bases,” and conducting training, exercises, active combat, and air and drone strikes on six continents. The selections, writes Savell, are “conservative,” and sourced from both independent and mainstream media outlets and international government and military sources.

“The most comprehensive depiction in civilian circles of U.S. military and government antiterrorist actions overseas,” the America at War map provides information we don't often get in our daily—or hourly, or by-the-minute—diet of news. "Contrary to what most Americans believe, the war on terror is not winding down.” It is expanding. Given the country’s history of sustained mass movements against legally suspect, grossly expensive wars with high civilian casualties, disease epidemics, starvation, and refugee crises, one would think that a sizable segment of the population would want to know what their country's military and civilian defense contractors are doing around the world.

via Smithsonian.com

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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