Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Cartography, Historic Preservation, Brooklyn

As my first semester of graduate school is coming to a close, I've been reflecting on all that has taken place in these past three months. So far, graduate school has been everything I've hoped for and more. My class has a total of nine students, all of whom come from different backgrounds with different interests. We've come together to support one another and keep our collective curiosities afloat even with the mountains of work we've accomplished.

This semester I took a class in GIS (Geographic Information Systems) which was extremely challenging. In the past few years, I've come to rely on maps for a lot of my research and thought it would be helpful to be trained in map applications for my Master's degree. The applications in GIS are very broad, though in my class most of our lectures/lab assignments focused on biological or transportation issues. For our class research project, I created fire station service area maps for three towns in Vermont. The service areas were created to classify historic barns that had been recorded as part of the Vermont Barn Census project. The maps I created illustrated drive times from the town fire station to any of the barns located in town. The service area is divided into three zones classified by driving time in minutes. The first zone is five minutes, the second is ten minutes and the third is fifteen minutes. What that means is that a barn located in the first zone would take up to five minutes maximum for a fire truck to drive to the barn from the fire station. It is important to note that this is not a response time, only driving time. The barns were color-coded to give clearer indication of which service area zone they were in. Barns coded as green were in the five minute zone, yellow for the ten minute zone and finally red as the fifteen minute zone. For the final part of my project, I tabulated data for every barn located in the fifteen minute or "red" zone. Barns in this zone were labeled to be most at-risk for destruction by fire.

Below is an image from one of my maps:

Fig. 1: Portion of service area map detailing location of a fire station and its drive times to historic barns

My hope is that my maps can be used for the Vermont Barn Census in encouraging further documentation of these historic sites. I'd like to make better maps of these towns and sites so that they can be used at the state level.

While looking around on the Internet for other historic preservation projects involving GIS, I came to BKLYNR by way of the Map Lab of Wired Magazine. BKLYNR is an independent online journal that publishes articles about the borough of Brooklyn, New York City. Thomas Rhiel, a Columbia University graduate, created an interactive, bird's eye map of Brooklyn where the viewer can see the age of a building on a graduated color scale. This map is an excellent example of digital preservation. Though the map itself does not save historic sites and structures, it provides an invaluable tool for parties interested in doing so.

One day, I took a few minutes to peruse the map. I haven't spent an extended period of time in Brooklyn but was curious to see some of the building footprints on Rhiel's map. I happened to zoom in randomly on the intersection of Flatbush and Myrtle. 

Fig. 2: MetroTech Commons at the intersection of Flatbush and Myrtle as it appears on Thomas Rhiel's map of Brooklyn
The curious green square amongst these much bigger squares immediately caught my attention. When I dragged my mouse over the square, the year of completion was displayed as 1846. I immediately started wondering about what an 1846 building was doing in the midst of this more modern cluster. I went on Google Maps and Bing Maps to get a better look at it.

Fig. 3: MetroTech Commons looking East. Note the "green square" building at the bottom of the building. Photo from Bing Maps.
Through further web-sleuthing, I found out that the building in question is currently the Wunsch Building of the Polytechnic Institute of New York University (NYU-Poly). The building originally was a Methodist Church. It is a very lovely example of Greek Revival architecture and I was very excited to see that it has been renovated and adapted for a modern use. It is also important to note that in the past twenty-five years, this entire neighborhood has undergone extensive revitalization.

Fig. 4: NYU-Poly students in front of the Methodist Church in 1994. Courtesy of Historypin.
Fig. 5: The Wunsch Building in 2009. Note the renovations in comparison to the 1994 picture. Photo by Jim Henderson.
And so, as I continue my studies in Historic Preservation, I will always be on the lookout for these buildings and stories. Our built environment has so many cultural ties to our communities and cities. It is always a shame to see them destroyed. Though the old Methodist Church does not serve parishioners anymore, it serves a great student body.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Baseball Season

"It is played everywhere: in parks and playgrounds, prison yards, in back alleys and farmers’ fields; by small boys and old men, raw amateurs and millionaire professionals. It is a leisurely game that demands blinding speed; the only game in which the defense has the ball. It follows the seasons, beginning each year with the fond expectancy of springtime and ending with the hard facts of autumn.

Americans have played baseball for more than 200 years; while they conquered a continent, warred with each other and with enemies abroad, struggled over labor and civil rights, and with the meaning of freedom.

At its heart lie mythic contradictions: a pastoral game born in crowded cities, an exhilarating democratic sport that tolerates cheating, and has excluded as many as it has included. A profoundly conservative game that often manages to be years ahead of its time. It is an American Odyssey that links sons and daughters to fathers and grandfathers, and it reflects a host of age-old American tensions; between workers and owners, scandal and reform, the individual and the collective.

It is a haunted game in which every player is measured with the ghosts of those who have gone before. Most of all it is about time and timelessness, speed and grace, failure and loss, imperishable hope, and coming home.

The game’s greatest figures have come from everywhere: coal mines and college campuses, city slums and country crossroads. A brawling Irish immigrant’s son [John McGraw] who for more than half a century preached a rough and scrambling brand of baseball in which anything went so as long victory was achieved; and his favorite player, a college-educated right-hander [Christy Mathewson] so uniformly virtuous that millions of schoolboys worshipped him as The Christian Gentleman.

A mill hand who could neither read nor write [Joe Jackson] who might have been one of the game's greatest heroes if temptation had not proved too great. A flamboyant federal judge [Kenesaw Mountain Landis] who at first saved baseball from a scandal that threatened to destroy it, but later became an implacable enemy of reform.

A miner’s son [Mickey Mantle] from Commerce, Oklahoma, who made himself the game’s most powerful switch-hitter despite 17 seasons of ceaseless pain. A tight-fisted Methodist [Branch Rickey], ‘a cross’, one sportswriter said, ‘between a statistician and an evangelist’, who profoundly changed the game twice. And there were those whose true greatness was never fully measured because of the stubborn prejudice that permeated the nation and its favorite game.

Two of baseball's best began life in rural Georgia: A swift and savage competitor [Ty Cobb] who may have been the greatest player of all time, but whose uncontrollable rage in the end made him more enemies than friends; and another no less fierce competitor [Jackie Robinson] who, because he managed to hold his temper, made professional baseball a truly national pastime more than a century after it was born.

And then there was the Baltimore saloonkeeper’s turbulent son [Babe Ruth], who became the best-known and best-loved athlete in American history." - Ken Burns' Baseball