Google maps as a historical tool

lomex_google

I am impressed by these images of Robert Moses’ Lower and Mid-Manhattan  highway proposals reconstructed (or I suppose in this case constructed) into google maps. It’s a form of experimental historical practice (we like that), and it always strikes me when someone goes to the effort to produce something like this. The author of these can be found here.

I do wonder why one would choose google maps to make these. Perhaps google maps is the objective language of the present. It’s what a city looks like now (versus an aerial photograph, a birdseye view, a Bollman map). But the potential problem with this and other google map reconstructions is that it places the historical projects of the past into the uniform language of the present.  The methodologies, the visual language, and the platform of representation are absorbed into tools currently used to measure traffic, scope out real-estate, and find a restaurant. That is, the system of representation and the thing represented emerge from entirely different concepts of the urban. It makes the Lower Manhattan Expressway look so tame!

But what makes this so interesting is that the map works. Why? Because google maps and our understanding of Moses hang on the contemporary concept of infrastructure. Like the concept of “nature”, the contemporary term “infrastructure” is becoming one of the most important, but trans–historical terms of our epoch. It appears to describe everything (now and “then”) through one single concept; and that’s a problem. The maps are great, but the social structure that makes it convincing is troubling.

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