Submitted by DeanerPPX (Dean Evaniak):
After reading STEEL’s article, “Seriously, isn’t it time to save what’s left?” (and the comments that it generated), I wanted to put my own widescreen iMac and Photoshop skills to the test. While STEEL’s images were startling, I felt that there were other layers of information to be revealed from that aerial image taken in 1951.
See lead image – 2009 B Density Change
I quickly downloaded the image he used, and lined it up with a photo from 2009 posted on Google Earth. I then attempted to reverse-engineer the same information using the more current photo, flipping back and forth to verify STEEL’s research. Along the way, I took a few extra steps to separate the urban fabric which we have completely lost from the urban fabric which has been replaced over the past six decades.
I felt it was important to show that as stark as our city’s losses have been, perhaps it wasn’t quite as startling as his image suggests. I started by masking out areas that were a complete loss. Vacant lots and urban prairies are highlighted in red, while sites that still retain some use as a surface parking lot are orange. I realized how much effort STEEL had put into his image, as this was a daunting task. I did not go parcel by parcel and lot by lot as he did, rather I only highlighted city blocks, half block, or notable examples.
1951 E Demolished
2009 E Demolished
For larger areas like the lower east side, I simply used yellow to highlight blocks that retain some of their old buildings but at a significantly lower density. I did the same for the lower west side, which has been largely razed and rebuilt (but at a drastically lower density as well).
1951 D At Risk
2009 D At Risk
I found it necessary to use green to highlight parks, plazas, squares and recreational areas. Surprisingly, we have MORE or these than we did in 1951, most notably along the marina, inner harbor, and in the Shelton Square/Division Park area of downtown. The green space around the Niagara Street exit of the 190 is subject to interpretation, so I balanced that off by highlighting the grassy area across from LaSalle Park as vacant lot.
Then I moved on to differentiate the urban areas that have been preserved from the areas that have been replaced with something new. The marina, the medical campus, and downtown development helped to reclaim some of those barren zones. Certainly, some of theses redevelopments are questionable. I didn’t know how to handle places like the Convention Center or Main Place Mall. In the end, I decided that anything that remained mostly as it had been in 1951 would be highlighted in purple. Anything such as the city court or bus station would be blue. It may not be the most aesthetically pleasing redevelopment, but if it still has a definite function it’s blue. Buildings such as parking ramps, however, I did downgrade to yellow.
There were several new buildings along the 190 that were not present in 1951. I cannot tell if they are vacant or in use, so I decided to mark them as blue. Some sites, such as the Donovan Building were constructed after 1951, abandoned, and are now about to begin a new life as part of Canal Side, so 60 years seems to span more than one lifetime for a variety of sites.
1951 C Preserved
2009 C Preserved
My map isn’t foolproof. I did not spend nearly as much time on it as STEEL did. There are errors here and there, as I was working at a much lower resolution and was verifying information via satellite image rather than city record. Some may point out obvious discrepancies such as the Trico building or the Aud site. There is a tiny bit of artistic license used, as I adjusted contrast so the 2009 image would better simulate the sun angle of the 1951 photo. But if anyone would like to take their own stab at it, I kept the layered Photoshop file and can easily email it to anyone who requests it.
I don’t mean to refute anything that STEEL said in his article, quite the contrary as I believe most of his points are reflected in my images as well. But I do hope this evening of effort gives a slightly different depth of perspective as to how much we truly have lost, and what we have done with all those shovel-ready sites over the past 60 years.
2009 B Density Change