3 Mapping Technologies That Will Change How You See NYC

New York City has always been a city in flux, with compelling local histories buried as quickly as new histories are born. These three innovative mapping technologies from artists and developers worldwide allow users to explore the city in entirely new ways — all from the convenience of a smartphone or laptop.

Don’t take NYC at face value; use these three tools to uncover the past, future, and hidden present of your city.

1. Surging Seas

Surging Seas is an interactive map with a unique premise: displaying the coastline changes that would occur at various forecasted sea-level rises over the next century. The map was created by the ever-creative team at Stamen, a digital agency based in San Francisco with a special focus in mapping and research technologies.

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For Surging Seas, the developers aimed to differentiate themselves from existing forecast tools by creating a map that highlighted the “land that’s lost,” showing how even “minor” changes like the 13 feet rise caused by Hurricane Sandy can radically alter the shape of the city.

2. Spyglass on the Past

This interactive map from the David Rumsey collection puts a lens on the past rather than the future, allowing users to peer through a spyglass-shaped overlay on modern aerial photography of NYC and see the same area as mapped in hand-drawn charts from 1836.

Interactive map comparing New York City of 1836 to Today

What’s most surprising about this tool is not how much has changed, but how little; especially in Manhattan, where it’s almost as if the streets have been frozen in time compared with Brooklyn, where centuries of urban renewal and natural disasters have created radical inconsistencies in city planning.

The map can be viewed on the Smithsonian online.

3. Architecture of Radio

Perhaps the most compelling maps are those that chart the things we cannot see. Architecture of Radio, and iOS app from interdisciplinary artist and technologist Richard Vijgen, turns your iPhone or iPad into an augmented reality window that visualizes the invisible radio waves that bathe the city.


From cell towers to overhead satellites to overlapping Wi-Fi bubbles, the app’s blue and white interface feels like looking into a parallel, ghostly realm.

Architecture of Radio is available in the Apple App Store.

—Words by VAGA Editors