Old Maps of New York City - Untapped CitiesImage via NYPL Digital Collections

We know that Untapped Cities readers, like us, are obsessed with maps. You’ve taken our Fun Maps column to a whole new level these days and we’re loving it. For those that have a penchant for both history and maps, this new tool from the New York Public Library is for you. The NYC Space/Time Directory is like Google Maps but historical, and not just street view from the last ten years. This would be a time slider going back hundreds of years, where you can look up not only what a particular address looked like but also pull in cultural heritage material like old newspaper articles, census data, business directories, vintage photographs, literary references and more.

We first heard Ben Vershbow speak about the NYC Space/Time Directory project over a year ago, in November 2013 at an Artifacts gathering at The Wooly run by Studio Akko. The project didn’t have a name yet, but it was nonetheless exciting to see the forthcoming confluence of archival information and nerdy mapping data. Furthermore, he announced at the time that the project was already being crowdsourced.

NYC Space:Time Directory NYPL Maps

Today, the crowdsourced portion is called “Building Tool” and it allows “citizen cartographers” to check the work that the computers are doing. The software Vershbow and his team has written isolates building footprints, scales different maps over one another, and other fun stuff, but sometimes computers get things wrong, as we know. Building Tool gives you small bite size pieces of information to verify like checking and fixing building footprints and entering addresses. A quick way to see how the maps have been sized to fit each other is on this page, where you can scroll down maps going back in time.

NYC Space:Time Directory NYPL Maps-2

Using Old Maps as Time Travel- Untapped CitiesImage via NYPL Digital Collections

Vershbow tells Fast Company, “Today when we explore cities, we use digital maps and GPS devices, which take the way people think about places and translate it into the way computers talk about them.” However, this works for current locations but we type in an old address into Google, the search engine often falters in giving us a proper response to what we are looking for. As Vershbow explains, “Geography changes. And in cities, it’s changing constantly. That’s why getting the data from these old maps is the key.”

Translating Old Maps of NYC - Untapped Cities-Image via NYPL Digital Collections

Helping to make the NYC Space/Time Directory a reality, The Knight Foundation recently awarded NYPL labs $380,000 Through this grant, the New York Public Library will translate over 21,000 maps that date back as far as the 17th century into an amazingly crafted resource engine for journalists, researchers and history buffs looking to take a trip into the past.

Read on for our Fun Maps column on original Dutch and Native names of NYC neighborhoods.