John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
A computer-generated visualization shows the island sprouting buildings that eventually clump together in one great clot of concrete.
Give a toddler a bucket of toy blocks and the transplanted brain of a seasoned historian and you might get this: A simulacrum of the growth of Lower Manhattan over the previous 100-plus years, executed in a playful-looking medium you'd expect a parent to knock over while vacuuming the carpet.
This unusual view of downtown New York growing buildings from 1840 to 2020 (the animation includes projects under development) is the work of the aptly named Cube Cities, an urban-visualization service based in Calgary, Alberta. As mentioned earlier on this site, the company is in the business of whipping up computer-generated skylines for major cities based on property listings and Google Earth data; it's produced similar videos for Chicago, San Francisco, Toronto, and elsewhere.
Cube Cities finished the Lower Manhattan project earlier this month. If you've got your browser plugins in order you can explore the air space around the ersatz city in three dimensions, like a seagull swooping through vividly colored canyons. But the animation is cool enough as is: Watch as urban development sends structures leaping into the sky in the first couple decades of the 20th century, grind to a halt until the 50s, then go ape-bonkers all the way to the new millennium.
Apologies in advance for the disconcerting club music. For anybody wondering what the brown lump at the bottom is that squats for so much time, it's 2 Whitehall Street, an early-1900s building that looks neat from above: