You may remember the National Geographic Society’s “Before New York” project, where they set out to create a visualization of what Manhattan Island would have looked liked when Henry Hudson first set eyes on it at the beginning of the 17th century. What makes the project so compelling it the way it makes clear the sheer scale of the engineering required to create an urban area like New York — not only were hills and highlands leveled, and the coastline extended, but wise swaths of wetlands were filled in, eliminating entire waterways. (Check out the images from the Chinatown area and the Upper East and Harlem in particular.)
In a somewhat similar project, albeit on a smaller scale, the Imaging Research Center at the Universty of Maryland, Baltimore County, has been working on creating a 3D visualization of Washington, D.C. in the early days of its construction. (I found the video at Ghosts of DC, a D.C. history blog) Without being competitive, In my utterly unimportant opinion, IRC’s six-and-a-half minute video blows the National Geographic’s website away, particularly in the way that it walks through the process of pulling information from 19th century topographical surveys and maps.
What’s really striking about the project, especially in comparison to “Before New York,” is how much closer to the present it is. In New York, National Geographic is digging back to nearly to the 16th century. Washington, D.C., however, was still largely undeveloped in the middle of the 19th century.
There’s a lot of concrete here. But the roads themselves are new.