Google Street View

In GIFs.

Google Street View creates what feels like a seamless (if pixelated) tour of city streets, and it's one that you could wander through all day if you had the patience to keep clicking. Virtually walk down any road, though, you may notice that sometimes the weather changes, or the seasons do.

Street View knits together a simultaneous patchwork of images taken at different times, and that means the site offers a quirky visual history of evolving neighborhoods – if, that is, you know exactly where to look.

Justin Blinder, an artist, programmer, and designer based in Brooklyn, stumbled across several of these wrinkles in Google Street View time while searching for ways to visualize how the city had changed under Michael Bloomberg, for a collaborative art project called Envision New York 2017.

"The two prominent elements for me of the Bloomberg Administration seemed to be one, the opening of city data," Blinder says, "and the other was this generally perceived accelerated gentrification."

He wanted to use the one to narrate the other. So he pulled up the city's recently released PLUTO dataset of property parcels, searched for those developments that were only a few years old, then went looking for their addresses in Street View.

"I immediately started seeing that most of the locations were actually vacant lots," Blinder says. The Google car hadn't driven by since the new luxury condos or office buildings or mid-rise rentals had gone up.

The site of a new development at 263 Eckford Street in Brooklyn.

Because of how Google documents streets, though, one intersection may be viewed from multiple angles captured at different moments in time. Maybe a Google car passed down India Street in Brooklyn two years ago. Then another car came down McGuinness Boulevard earlier this winter. Stand at the intersection of those two roads, and the scenes change dramatically.

"You’ll realize that they were taken at two completely different times," Blinder says, "and sometimes the delta between those times is so great that it actually spans the development of an entire building."

This is 190 India Street, as seen through Google Street View and recast by Blinder in a GIF:

As it turns out, a GIF may be the perfect medium to capture how it feels when new buildings seemingly pop up in your neighborhood overnight (Blinder, though, leaves it to the viewer to decide if this is gentrification in motion).

Blinder went back to the PLUTO dataset specifically looking for other recent corner-lot developments that might be viewed this same way:

11 Bedford Ave., Brooklyn.

11 2nd Ave., in Manhattan.

Blinder has come to look at Google Street View images of city streets as a kind of database of information. Google Street View itself isn't all that old (and older images as Google updates them aren't publicly archived anywhere online). But his project suggests that the mapping giant's Street View cars may be inadvertently documenting all kinds of processes of urban change.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. a map comparing the sizes of several cities
    Maps

    The Commuting Principle That Shaped Urban History

    From ancient Rome to modern Atlanta, the shape of cities has been defined by the technologies that allow commuters to get to work in about 30 minutes.

  2. a photo rendering of "Siemensstadt 2.0" in Berlin
    Life

    Berlin’s Take on a High-Tech ‘Smart City’ Could Be Different

    The German company Siemens is launching an ambitious adaptive reuse project to revitalize its historic corporate campus, with a modern data-collecting twist.

  3. A photo of a police officer in El Paso, Texas.
    Equity

    What New Research Says About Race and Police Shootings

    Two new studies have revived the long-running debate over how police respond to white criminal suspects versus African Americans.

  4. Life

    Dublin Is Changing, and Locals Hate It

    The recent loss of popular murals and local pubs is fueling a deeper angst over mass tourism, redevelopment and urban transformation in the Irish capital.

  5. People standing in line with empty water jugs.
    Environment

    Cape Town’s ‘Day Zero’ Water Crisis, One Year Later

    In spring 2018, news of the water crisis in South Africa ricocheted around the world—then the story disappeared. So what happened?

×