As part of an Urban Studies trip, I got a chance to visit the Map Room of the New York Public Library. There, I got to see firsthand how my neighborhood has changed since the late nineteenth-century.
Let me add some context: after fires bankrupted New York fire insurance companies, out-of-state companies insured houses differently based on the material they were made out of; this was so that they could charge more based on the risk burning down. I analyzed one of these maps, made in 1891, and looked at the area that my house is now within. The map showed that the building that stood where my building now stands was made of brick. (1) This is interesting, given that the house that I live in now was constructed much later (1967) and is made of steel, concrete, and glass. Some buildings around me, however, are still made of brick. It is intriguing to view the massive amount of change but also considerable amount of similarity in the buildings of now and then.
Something else that piqued my interest was the fact that beyond my house, very few buildings were actually built. There was an ever-advancing urban frontier, that in 1891, happened to be just within a block of my house. A snapshot in time reveals how different my neighborhood was barely over one hundred years ago, when brick houses in place of my apartment marked the edge of what the city had constructed.
- Bromley, George Washington., and Walter Scott. Bromley. 1915. Atlas of the City of New York. Philadelphia: G.W. Bromley