Red Hook is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Brooklyn, with a history dating all the way back to the 1600s. Since then, it developed from a sparsely populated village, to a busy port, to a notorious crime haven, to the site of a popular IKEA.
Chris Whong, a mapmaker and open data advocate, created an interactive “urban scratchoff” site to illustrate the differences in Red Hook, before and after the complete addition of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE) in 1964.
Users can click and drag on the map to reveal differences between old and new Brooklyn. Remarkably, the grid remains seemingly unaltered, save for on and off ramps to the expressway. Some ports seem to disappear, others are expanded, and the Northwest part of Red Hook adds a bit of land. New buildings sprout up, as does green space. Besides existing trees maturing, many pockets of the area now feature purposeful landscaping and small parks.
The project is possible thanks to the New York Public Library’s “Map Warper,” a tool that allows users to digitally align historical maps from NYPL collections with today’s precise maps. Users pull from the library’s collection of thousands of maps and can easily overlay modern maps, like Google Maps. The collection includes rough settlement surveys, railway maps, population distributions and more — dating all the way back to 1550!
Whong calls his scratchoff adaptation a “prototype.” He typically unlocks his data and processes for fellow data wizards to innovate.