Screenshot via Urban Scratch Off
Screenshot via Urban Scratch Off

Reveal How New York Has Changed With This 'Scratch-Off' Map

Screenshot via Urban Scratch Off
Screenshot via Urban Scratch Off

Cities never look the same for more than a few years in a row. Landmarks disappear, elevated trains give way to streetcars and subways, and old industrial sites get rehabbed, to name a few common changes. Over the past century, a fair amount has changed in New York City, as evidenced by a new application that compares the modern city to its 1924 past.

Urbanist and data visualization enthusiast Chris Whong created Urban Scratch Off, a simple site with two layers of maps—one from 1924 and one from today—that allows users to erase one layer to reveal the imagery beneath. While much of the city’s broad design looks quite similar in structure to its 1924 incarnation, some infrastructure projects have made big impacts.

Whong’s original concept was to visualize the impact the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway had on the communities in its path, and the level of demolition that occurred to make way for the highway. But once you start scratching off parts of the city to reveal the historical urban fabric, it’s hard to stop at just the path of one highway. So he made it into a city-wide visual of urban development over 90 years.

Since 1924, waterfronts have changed (Battery Park City, a landfill site in downtown Manhattan, was completed in 1976), stadiums have moved (the current Yankee Stadium is a block north of the original, and the original home of the Brooklyn Dodgers is now an apartment building), and major airports have been erected (JFK opened as New York International Airport in 1948). Just draw your mouse over a location to see what it looked like before versus what it looks like now.

Whong hopes to add points of interest in the future, because without a search function, it’s a little hard to find specific places unless you’re super familiar with the geography. Play with it for yourself here. It’s like a virtual lottery scratcher, except you don’t lose any money.

[h/t: CityLab]

The Secret World War II History Hidden in London's Fences

In South London, the remains of the UK’s World War II history are visible in an unlikely place—one that you might pass by regularly and never take a second look at. In a significant number of housing estates, the fences around the perimeter are actually upcycled medical stretchers from the war, as the design podcast 99% Invisible reports.

During the Blitz of 1940 and 1941, the UK’s Air Raid Precautions department worked to protect civilians from the bombings. The organization built 60,000 steel stretchers to carry injured people during attacks. The metal structures were designed to be easy to disinfect in case of a gas attack, but that design ended up making them perfect for reuse after the war.

Many London housing developments at the time had to remove their fences so that the metal could be used in the war effort, and once the war was over, they were looking to replace them. The London County Council came up with a solution that would benefit everyone: They repurposed the excess stretchers that the city no longer needed into residential railings.

You can tell a stretcher railing from a regular fence because of the curves in the poles at the top and bottom of the fence. They’re hand-holds, designed to make it easier to carry it.

Unfortunately, decades of being exposed to the elements have left some of these historic artifacts in poor shape, and some housing estates have removed them due to high levels of degradation. The Stretcher Railing Society is currently working to preserve these heritage pieces of London infrastructure.

As of right now, though, there are plenty of stretchers you can still find on the streets. If you're in the London area, this handy Google map shows where you can find the historic fencing.

[h/t 99% Invisible]

This Just In
What Do You Get the Person Who Has Everything? Perhaps a German Village for Less Than $150,000

Looking for a gift for the world traveler who has everything? If cost isn't an issue and they're longing for a quiet country home, Fortune reports that an entire village in East Germany is up for sale. The tiny hamlet of Alwine, in Germany's Brandenburg region, is going up for auction on Saturday, December 9. Opening bids begin at $147,230.

Alwine has around one dozen buildings and 20 full-time residents, most of them elderly. It was once owned by a neighboring coal plant, which shut down in 1991, soon after East Germany reunited with West Germany. Many residents left after that. Between 1990 and 2015, the regional population fell by 15 percent, according to The Local.


In 2000, a private investor purchased the decaying hamlet for just one Deutsche Mark (the currency used before the euro). But its decline continued, and now it's up for grabs once more—this time around, for a much-higher price.

Andreas Claus, the mayor of the district surrounding Alwine, wasn't informed of the village's sale until he heard about it in the news, according to The Local. While no local residents plan to purchase their hometown, Claus says he's open to fostering dialogue with the buyer, with hopes of eventually revitalizing the local community.

[h/t Fortune]


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