Google introduces historical Street View


It has been a while since I’ve posted, and that is mostly due to my new job! I’m doing research for a transportation modeling team, and my job mostly consists of keeping our network models up to date using GIS and other programs.

Anyway, enough about me. Today Google released an improvement for their maps functionality that makes one aspect of my job so much easier. I’ve been working on a 2010 network model (note that it is now 2014), which means I have to pull roadway information (number of lanes, length, speed limit, etc) from 2010 in order to have an accurate model. Since roadways often change, especially in the downtown area, this is not always an easy task. Until now, I’ve been using Google Earth, which has the ability to view historical satellite imagery. So, until today, I’ve been verifying lane counts from a bird’s-eye perspective. This is not always easy when there’s shadows from tall buildings or trees in the way.

But luckily, now I can use Street View from roughly any time since 2007. That means I can go back to 2010 and view what the roads actually looked like from a human’s-eye perspective (or car’s-eye perspective). This makes things way easier! And better yet, it’s built into Google Maps so I can do it right from my browser.

According to the Google Earth blog,

Activating it is quite simple. While viewing imagery in Street View, simply click the clock in the upper-left part of the screen (as shown in the image above) to choose a different time. Note that this feature is rolling out in stages, and you may not yet have access to it.

Easy peasy. I’m going to be using this a lot from now on. Thanks Google!

The world in 430 BC according to Herodotus

This map was not actually created by Herodotus himself – it was put together from the description of the world given in his historical masterpiece The HistoriesThe area encompasses the Mediterranean Sea, west to present-day Spain, north to the southern half of Europe, east to India, and south to the Sahara Desert. The map, as well as Herodotus’s book, have several glaring inaccuracies, including the Nile jutting west almost all the way across the Sahara Desert, Africa terminating just south of that same desert, and how he seems to refer to all people with dark skin as “Ethiopians.”

I love seeing how people thought of the world at different periods of time. 430BC is just about the time that humans really started to inquire philosophically and record their thoughts, and it’s interesting that the entire world to even the most scholarly intellectual at the time is only now just a small fraction of our world. People of the time would likely have been amazed had they known that there were several continents in every direction, that the planet had polar ice caps, and that the earth was roughly a sphere. Or how about that there are planets other than our own? Or the vastness of our universe?

On that point, will our maps be quite as unsophisticated to humans 2,500 years from now (assuming there are any)? Will our picture of the universe pale in comparison to theirs? I certainly think so – I imagine that our current “map” of the universe is far, far more incomplete than Herodotus’s map of the world in 430 BC.

Image via Age of the Sage.

The nonexistent island


Sandy Island was an island off the northeast coast of Australia that is believed to have disappeared entirely after having been discovered in the late 18th century and documented up until the 20th century. James Cook was the first to document its existence in 1774, and French maps corroborated the island in maps during the 19th century. However, recent expeditions have discovered that Sandy Island simply does not exist, and it wasn’t until November 2012 that the National Geographic Society officially removed Sandy Island from all maps. Even Google Maps, which is supposed to get its data from satellite imagery, featured Sandy Island until that date.

So what happened? The island appears to be relatively large, so it’s hard to imagine that it just disappeared over the last few hundred years. However, the idea is not too farfetched – the island could have simply been a low island of sand and nothing else, as its name evoques. The island’s supposed location, seen below, indeed raises the possibility that the island was at one time simply a raised bed of sand which eroded away over the centuries.


Sandy Island’s supposed location was in the heart of the Coral Sea, where there is an underwater range of mountains and coral reefs, so it is entirely plausible that a larger mountain breached the water’s surface for a period of time and was later washed away. However, when researching this topic I came upon a long list of once-documented islands that were found to be nonexistent, and not all of them can be attributed to erosion.

A glaring example of a wrongly-documented island is the island of Frisland, supposedly south of Iceland and west of Ireland. It is not entirely ridiculous for explorers to have thought and island existed in the area, as there is a bit of raised seabed in the area that could have served as an island at one point. But, something catastrophic would have had to have happened in order to sink an island of that size, so I’m going to go ahead and say that this island never existed. Frisland was mostly only featured on maps for about 100 years – from about 1560 to 1660 – but a few maps kept it on as late as the 18th century. Early maps, like the one below, gave it place names, and it was even given currency by the Maggiolo family of Genoa.

It’s possible that Frisland was actually the southern part of Greenland and that explorers mistakenly presumed it to be its own island, but there is no definite consensus on the topic. However, it seems that there have been many instances of nonexistent islands – accidental or otherwise – and thanks to satellite imagery, this sort of problem probably won’t be happening again anytime soon.

All info and images via Wikipedia, digitaltrends, and the Auckland Museum blog.

Wind Map shows the power of the wind as it’s happening

Unfortunately, I found this website just a day too late. As some may know, there was some really intense wind in Texas yesterday. It looks like that wind is now moving steadily towards the northeast. Anyway, the site shows the power of the wind almost as quickly as it’s happening, and that is just too cool. It even has a gallery so you can look at the power of the wind during various important events, like Hurricane Sandy, Hurricane Isaac, and others. Since lots of you are still experiencing some intense wind, check it out! The snapshot above is how the wind is today, on February 26th. From the site:

Surface wind data comes from the National Digital Forecast Database. These are near-term forecasts, revised once per hour. So what you’re seeing is a living portrait. (See the NDFD site for precise details; our timestamp shows time of download.) And for those of you chasing top wind speed, note that maximum speed may occur over lakes or just offshore.

Check it out: Wind Map

Professor Orlando Furgeson’s 1893 argument for a “square and stationary earth”

I find it interesting that the belief that the world is anything besides round persisted well into the 19th century. The map above was drawn by Professor Orlando Furgeson and published in 1893 – he claims that scripture backs up the “square and stationary earth” and refutes the idea of a moving, spheroid earth. He cites many passages from the Bible on the map itself, including “it is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth” as proof that points to a non-globular planet.

If the word of the Bible is not proof enough, he also claims that a planet moving 65,000 miles per hour around the sun would surely fling its inhabits out into the darkest reaches of space.

Even though the theory is not substantiated, I still think it’s interesting that Furgeson decided to go with a sort of wavy-flat earth rather than a completely flat one. I can’t fathom how his map would account for seasons, day length, or the lack of a horizon in the southern hemisphere. And how does gravity come into play? Wouldn’t the slope cause all the world’s water to pool in the southern hemisphere?

The bottom right corner states that if one were to send 25 cents to the professor, he or she would receive a book explaining the square and stationary earth. There doesn’t seem to be any existing copies of the book, so his theory is lost to the ages. It certainly would have been an interesting read!

Image from Wikipedia.

The 10 most segregated US cities visualized with GIS

Main city population: 3,792,62
Metropolitan population: 12,828,837
Segregation level (dissimilarity): 67.84

Salon wrote an interesting article a few years ago about modern segregation, and they used GIS to help readers visualize the separation of race in urban areas. What I found interesting about the data is that there is not a single southern US city in the top 10 most segregated American cities. During the majority of the 20th century, the southern United States was considered the region with the most racism and segregation, and rightly so. The citizens and politicians of many southern states were largely opposed to legislation that would give minorities more rights, whereas citizens and politicians of northern states were much more progressive and willing to give civil rights to all citizens. Even now, I think many Americans share the opinion that the south is still behind the rest of the nation as far as racism goes.

Even though the maps show segregation, it’s not anything like the segregation of the early 20th century, where certain races were forced to live in a particular area. I think it’s likely that some of these groups choose to live among those similar to them. For example, hispanics who are new to the US would probably feel much more comfortable living near those who they can communicate with and relate to. It would be much more difficult to start a new life in a new country if you felt totally isolated.

Los Angeles is the 10th most segregated city in the US, according to 2010 census data. You’ll see in the graphic above that hispanics tend to live in one area, while asians and blacks largely group together as well. Segregated communities are much more rampant in the nine following graphics, all of which are located in the northern United States.

9. Philadelphia, PA

Main city population: 1,526,006
Metropolitan population: 5,965,343
Segregation level (dissimilarity): 68.41

8. Cincinnati, OH

Main city population: 296,943
Metropolitan population: 2,130,151
Segregation level (dissimilarity): 69.42

7. St. Louis, MO

Main city population: 319,294
Metropolitan population: 2,812,896
Segregation level (dissimilarity):72.3

6. Buffalo, NY

Main city population: 261,310
Metropolitan population: 1,135,509
Segregation level (dissimilarity): 73.24

5. Cleveland, OH

Main city population: 396,815
Metropolitan population: 2,077,240
Segregation level (dissimilarity): 74.14

4. Detroit, MI

Main city population: 713,777
Metropolitan population: 4,296,250
Segregation level (dissimilarity): 75.25

3. Chicago, IL

Main city population: 2,695,598
Metropolitan population: 9,461,105
Segregation level (dissimilarity): 76.43

2. New York

Main city population: 8,175,133
Metropolitan population: 18,897,109
Segregation level (dissimilarity): 78.04

1. Milwaukee, WI

Main city population: 594,833
Metropolitan population: 1,555,908
Segregation level (dissimilarity): 81.52

After seeing how badly Los Angeles was segregated, I didn’t think it could get as bad as Milwaukee. Blacks are incredibly highly concentrated in one area of this Wisconsin city, as are hispanics. Whites make up at least 85.1% in both Washington and Ozaukee counties, and Waukesha county is almost that high.

All data and info from Salon

Geographic imagery will be dramatically updated with launch of new Landsat satellite this morning

This morning at 10AM (PST), NASA launched its next iteration of Landsat satellites. The Landsat 8 is the 8th satellite since 1972 launched with the purpose of capturing images of earth’s surface. As of right now, all modern interactive maps used in programs such as Google Maps, Google Earth, and GIS programs use data from Landsat 7, which was sent into the atmosphere on April 15, 1999. This means that every image of the earth’s surface we see in those programs is outdated by nearly 14 years. The period of time between the launches of Landsat 7 and Landset 8 is the longest in the Landsat program’s history, and the new satellite is sure to update our understanding of the earth’s surface considerably.

Much has changed in the 14 years since the launch of Landsat 7, including the technology that powers the satellite’s imagery capabilities. All of the previous Landsat satellites used sensors with mirrors that simply oscillated back and forth, whereas Landsat 8 will use new sensors designed to continually measure infrared wavelengths, surface temperature, and the image of the earth’s surface. This way, we will have the clearest images of the earth’s surface, as well as information about the surface that we couldn’t have received from earlier Landsats.

According to the NASA blog post on the subject, Landsat 8 will be able to provide a complete picture of the earth’s surface every 16 days using the new sensors. Now, I’m not sure if this means that interfaces such as Google Maps will be updated every 16 days with new imagery or not, but that would certainly be a huge leap in mapping technology.

All info via NASA and Wikipedia

Milestones in urban planning

Urban planning has undoubtedly evolved rapidly since the beginning of the 20th century. The Atlantic Cities wrote an article detailing the latest exhibit put on by SPUR (San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association) called “Grand Reductions: Ten diagrams that changed urban planning” which presents vital changes in urban planning through the use of 10 important diagrams.

The image above is Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Broadacre City,” a proposed urban development designed to give each landowner one acre of property on a 36 square mile parcel of land. The idea was first made public in 1932 during the rise of America’s shift towards suburbanization and sprawl. Wright’s idea would only have furthered the suburban problem that is currently being beaten down by the new-age urbanism of shared spaces and tight-knit communities in urban centers. As Broadacre City spaces neighbors out and focuses on land rather than community, an America modeled after this vision would leave citizens distant and isolated.

Hippodamus of Miletus of the 5th century BC is often regarded as the “father” of urban planning. From his wikipedia:

His plans of Greek cities were characterised by order and regularity in contrast to the more intricacy and confusion common to cities of that period, even Athens. He is seen as the originator of the idea that a town plan might formally embody and clarify a rational social order.

One can say that urban planning started with Hippodamus of Miletus, as he introduced orderly city planning which was the first to be truly planned. However, the SPUR exhibition begins its history of modern urban planning with Ebenezer Howard‘s garden city of 1903, seen below.

Ebenezer Howard designed the garden city at the turn of the 20th century in order to combat the polluted and overcrowded cities that made up a large part of urban life in his day. The idea was to have a 12,000 acre city with a population of 58,000 in the center with several smaller cities of 9,000 acres and populations of 32,000 connected by canals to the center city. Spreading everything out would reduce pollution and the entire “garden city” would be roughly 66,000 acres with a population of 250,000. The idea was adopted in the planning of two English towns, Letchworth and Welwyn, but neither worked quite as ideally as Howard’s plan, and both contributed to the problem of urban sprawl characterized by the first half of the 20th century.

This is an interesting concept introduced in New York City’s 1916 zoning laws. It basically says that skyscrapers in New York City must taper off as they get taller as to maximize the amount of sunlight the streets below receive. It’s a clever idea that more cities really should implement. Not only does it make the streets of NYC brighter and more lively, but it also results in what I consider to be a beautiful skyline as seen below.

The exhibition closes with the idea that planners are moving more towards environmental planning due to the ever-increasing global temperature. The focus of planning has shifted and planners are now more conscious of the environment and it can be seen in their work. The environment is a priority whereas it was hardly considered during the first part of the 20th century.

SPUR’s exhibition is open until February 28th, 2013 and is held at the SPUR Urban Center Gallery in San Francisco. It’s free so check it out!

All images and info via The Atlantic Cities and Wikipedia

Leo Belgicus: 16th and 17th century mapmakers drew the Low Countries as a lion

The Low Countries – or the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and a small part of northern France – were often displayed in the form of a lion on 16th and 17th century maps. The “Belgian” lion was often displayed in homes as a symbol of Dutch patriotism. Strangely, it followed one of the two iterations shown above – it either had a normal orientation as it is in the upper image (north at the top, Netherlands as the head, the spine following the coast of Belgium), or it was rotated at is in the lower image (west at the top, Netherlands being at the rear of the lion, and Belgium and the modern French department of Nord-Pas-de-Calais at the lion’s head). I made two maps in arcGIS to give a better idea of what these maps show.

This map displays the same area shown in the uppermost Leo Belgicus, with north as it truly is. The shape of a lion’s head, face, back, and chest is easily discernible. However, this lion shape only covers roughly from the shoulder up. The shape below covers more of the area of a lion.

This map is a rotated view of the Low Countries, with the shape of the lion in the lower image of Leo Belgicus above. This design is also a convincing lion-like shape, as it encompasses more of the body and only cuts off the legs and the face.

Now my question is, was the rotated design considered that much more lion-like that artists like Jodocus Hondius would rather sacrifice proper orientation in favor of a nice design? Hondius’ rotated design, created in 1611, came 28 years after the original design of Leo Belgicus by Michael Eytzinger in 1583. Nearly every subsequent incarnation of Leo Belgicus would be properly oriented as well, including those in 1609, 1617, 1648, 1650, and 1707.

Either way, it’s pretty cool how pride can be put into the design of a map.

Info from wikipedia and world digital library.