A 3D Animation Shows the Evolution of New York City (1524 — 2023)

Near­ly two and a half cen­turies after its found­ing, the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca is still both cel­e­brat­ed and derid­ed as a young coun­try. Exam­ined on the whole, the US may or may not seem less mature than oth­er lands in any obvi­ous way, but the dif­fer­ence man­i­fests much more clear­ly on the lev­el of cities. For even among those found­ed before the inde­pen­dence of the coun­try itself, no Amer­i­can city has yet attained 500 offi­cial years of age. But in the case of New York City, we can trace its for­ma­tion through half a mil­len­ni­um of his­to­ry, as ren­dered in the 3D ani­mat­ed video from Info­Geek above.

The long ver­sion of New York’s sto­ry begins in 1524, the year Gio­van­ni da Ver­raz­zano com­mand­ed the French ship La Dauphine into what we now know as New York Har­bor. While he and his crew did not, of course, get the dra­mat­ic for­est-of-sky­scrap­ers view for which that approach would lat­er be cel­e­brat­ed, they would, per­haps, have seen an actu­al for­est, as well as oth­er ele­ments of a nat­ur­al land­scape that would have appeared sub­lime­ly untouched. A cen­tu­ry lat­er, the Dutch there found­ed the trad­ing out­post of New Ams­ter­dam, which com­menced the writ­ten his­to­ry of New York — as well as the aggres­sive devel­op­ment that would even­tu­al­ly come to char­ac­ter­ize the city and its cul­ture.

New Ams­ter­dam became New York in 1664, one of the many his­tor­i­cal events that scroll past in the win­dow at the video’s low­er-left cor­ner. At that point in time, the pop­u­la­tion had grown to about 3,600, a fig­ure count­ed at the bot­tom of the frame. Yet even as we see streets roll out, build­ings rise, and trees sprout rapid­ly around us over the next 150 or so years of our stroll, and even after New York becomes Amer­i­ca’s largest city in 1790, we must bear in mind that its cen­tu­ry has­n’t even begun. It’s some­thing of an irony that the huge­ly destruc­tive Great Fire of 1835 pre­cedes a devel­op­men­tal push that makes the city, even to our twen­ty-first-cen­tu­ry eyes, look almost mod­ern.

Lat­er in the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry, we wit­ness the appear­ance of Cen­tral Park and the intro­duc­tion of motor­cars; by the turn of the twen­ti­eth, New York’s pop­u­la­tion approach­es three and a half mil­lion. Walk­ing down Wall Street (and into the Great Depres­sion), we pass just-mate­ri­al­iz­ing land­marks that remain icon­ic today, like the Chrysler Build­ing, the Empire State Build­ing and — after a some­what dra­mat­ic fast-for­ward in time — Frank Lloyd Wright’s Solomon R. Guggen­heim Muse­um and Minoru Yamasak­i’s ill-fat­ed World Trade Cen­ter. We’re now well into the New York of liv­ing mem­o­ry, and even when the ani­ma­tion has passed the cre­ative decrepi­tude of the sev­en­ties and eight­ies and arrives at the city as it was last year (pop­u­la­tion: 7,888,120), we sense that its evo­lu­tion has only just begun.

Relat­ed con­tent:

New York City: A Social His­to­ry (A Free Online Course from N.Y.U.)

Immac­u­late­ly Restored Film Lets You Revis­it Life in New York City in 1911

Scenes of New York City in 1945 Col­orized & Revived with Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence

The Lost Neigh­bor­hood Buried Under New York City’s Cen­tral Park

How Cen­tral Park Was Cre­at­ed Entire­ly By Design & Not By Nature: An Archi­tect Breaks Down America’s Great­est Urban Park

An Archi­tect Demys­ti­fies the Art Deco Design of the Icon­ic Chrysler Build­ing (1930)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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