Philadelphia’s Changing Skyline

Yesterday I mentioned how I spent Monday researching some old family properties in Philadelphia. In some cases the homes my family owned still stand. But, in many others the homes have long since been replaced. But that’s the nature of city development.

That got me thinking about an article published earlier this month at Philadelphia YIMBY where the author created an animated .gif detailing the Philadelphia skyline from 1905 through 2020. This screenshot captures the overlay of 2020 atop 1905 from the south of Philadelphia.

Kind of how it’d look from the sports complex.

But the gem of the piece is the animation. Implicit in the graphic but unmentioned is the text, which is understandably centred on the architectural designs of the skyline, is the history of Philadelphia.

In the old days, well before 1905, the city was concentrated along the Delaware River because it was—and still is—a port city. But as those shipping businesses were replaced by banks and financial companies which were replaced by other offices and manufacturing headquarters that were themselves replaced by corporate highrises and so on and so forth, we can see the centre of gravity shift westward.

The mass of buildings by 1905 has shifted away from the Delaware River and is concentrated to the east of City Hall, the tallest building until the 1980s. But you can see the highest and largest buildings moving more to the left in every frame. Though in the latest you can see some new largely residential highrises built along the Delaware waterfront.

It’s a great piece.

Credit for the piece goes to Thomas Koloski.

It’s Warming Up

As many of my readers know, I prefer my weather cooler and summer is probably my least favourite season—weather wise at least. Appropriately, my vaccination will be kicking in just in time for a small, early season heatwave. Felt like an appropriate time to share this piece from Brian Brettschenider.

It’s just an animated map showing where in the United States and Canada the daily average high temperature is 70ºF for each day of the year. Here’s where you can expect a daily high of 70ºF for the date of 20 May. Not Philadelphia.

I’m sure going to miss those reds.

Make sure to click through to watch the video on the Twitter.

Credit for the piece goes to Brian Brettschneider.

A4 For Ever (and Ever)

Most of my readers know that I am a designer who works in all formats. But, I really love working in print. Colours, textures, and the physicality of it all. Give me a foil stamp or metallic ink any day.

Any American designer who’s ever worked for an overseas client or overseas designer who’s ever worked for an American client knows all about the US Letter vs A4 debate.

For those that don’t, the US (along with Canada, Mexico, and a very few other countries) use what we call letter size paper. The rest of the world uses A4, part of the ISO 216 international standard. A4 has some special properties that make it the superior choice in my opinion.

But this is a Friday, so we’re here for the lighter take. And for that we have a video by CCP Grey, who explains some of the properties of A4 and then provides a fascinating perspective on it all. It’s about nine minutes long for what it’s worth.

A4 is in the middle.

Credit for the piece goes to CCP Grey.

Sweet Summer Air of Subway Cars

For those of my readers who live in a city where the subway or underground is a great means of getting around the city, you know you really miss that late Saturday night/early Sunday morning bouquet in the air. Though as this New York Times piece explains, sure it smells bad, but that air is probably safer than you dining indoors at a restaurant or even a child attending class in person.

The piece focuses on New York City subway cars, but they are very similar to the rest of the stock used in the United States. It uses a scrolling reveal to show how the air circulation and filtration systems work. Then it concludes with a model of how a person sneezing appears, both with and without a mask. (Spoiler, wear a mask.)

It’s a really nicely done and informative piece. It compares the rate of air recycled in a subway car to that of several other locations, and the results were a bit surprising to me. Of course, early on in the pandemic before we began to fully understand it, the threat was thought to be from contaminated surfaces—and let’s be honest, there are a lot of contaminated surfaces in a New York City subway car—but we now know the real risk is particles breathed/coughed/sneezed out from one’s mouth and nose. And we can now see just how efficient subways are at cycling and filtering that air.

Credit for the piece goes to Mika Gröndahl, Christina Goldbaum, and Jeremy White.

Mapping the Growth of Cities

This is an older piece from back in August, but I was waiting for a time when I would have some related articles to post alongside it. To start off the series of posts, we start with this piece from CityLab. As my titles implies, it looks at the growth of cities, but not in terms of people or technology but in terms of area/land.

The basic premise is that people look for a 30-minute commute and have done so throughout history. To make that point, the authors look at how transport technology evolved to enable people to live and work at further distances from each other, expanding the urban core.

The designer then chose to overlay the city limits of several cities largely defined by these technologies atop each other.

From small, compact, and dense to large, sprawling, and fluffy.
From small, compact, and dense to large, sprawling, and fluffy.

Conceptually the graphic works really well. The screenshot is of an animated. gif leading into the article that step-by-step reveals each city. However, throughout the article, each de facto section is introduced by a city outline graphic.

The graphic does a really nice job of showing how as technology allowed us to move faster, people chose to be further removed from the city core. Of course there are often multiple factors in why people may move out of the core, but transport certainly facilitates it.

Credit for the piece goes to David Montgomery.

It’s Getting Hot in Here

The UN climate summit begins in New York today. So let’s take a look at another data visualisation piece exploring climate change data. This one comes from a Washington Post article that, while largely driven by a textual narrative, does make use of some nice maps.

Ugh.
Ugh.

There is nothing too crazy going on with the actual map itself. I like the subtle use here of a stepped gradient for the legend. This allows for a clearer differentiation between adjacent regions and just how, well, bad things have become.

But where the piece shines is about halfway through. It takes this same map and essentially filters it. It starts with those regions with temperature changes over 2ºC. Then it progressively adds slightly less hotter regions to the map.

I mean at least it could be worse?
I mean at least it could be worse?

It’s a nice use of scrolling and filtering to highlight the areas worst impacted and then move down the horrible impact scale. And because this happens in the middle of the piece, giving it the full column width (online) allows the reader to really focus on the impacts.

Credit for the piece goes to Chris Mooney and John Muyskens.

Urban Boom Towns

Today we look at a piece from the Guardian about the blossoming of some cities from, essentially, out of nowhere. Think similar to how there is really no reason for Las Vegas or Phoenix to exist—cities of hundreds of thousands situated smack in the middle of the desert. But most of these new growth cities, cities from scratch as the Guardian calls them, are sprouting in Africa and Asia.

The piece uses two pretty straight-forward graphics to show the scale of the growth problem.

A lot of urban area growth is yet to come.
A lot of urban area growth is yet to come.

I don’t love the area chart, but even for all its flaws, it it still massively obvious just how much Africa will contribute to population growth in the coming decades. And the line chart, which I find far more effective despite its borderline spaghetti-ness, shows just how much of that growth will likely be urban in nature.

But the star of the piece, for which you will need to click over to the original article to enjoy, are the motion graphics. They capture year-by-year the satellite views showing how the cities have grown from almost nothing. This is a screencapture of Ordos, China. But go back a couple of years and it’s almost an empty desert.

Check this out from decades ago and you'll see nothing.
Check this out from decades ago and you’ll see nothing.

Credit for the piece goes to Antonio Voce and Nick Van Mead.

The Sartorial Trump

Happy Friday, all. We made it to the end of the week. Though if you are like me, i.e. living on the East Coast, welcome to Hell. As in so hot and humid.

So last month President Trump visited the United Kingdom on a state visit. He drew attention to himself not just because of his rhetoric, but also for his fashion choices. Consequently, the Washington Post published a piece about those fashion choices from the perspective of a professional tailor.

Look at those shoulders…
Look at those shoulders…

The overall piece is well worth a read if you find presidential fashion fascinating. But how does it qualify for Coffeespoons? A .gif that shows how Trump would look in a properly tailored suit.

Since this is a screenshot, you miss the full impact. The piece is an animation of an existing photo and how that then morphs into this for comparison’s sake.

I really enjoy the animated .gif when it works for data visualisation and story-telling.

Credit for the piece goes to Ezra Paul.

Notre Dame Almost Did Collapse

Back in April the famed Notre Dame cathedral in Paris caught fire and its roof and spire spectacularly collapsed. At the time I looked at a few different pieces, including two from the New York Times, that explored the spread of the fire. Several months later the Times has just published a look into how the firefighters saved the cathedral from collapse.

The graphics are the same amazing illustrated models from before. Now with routes taken by firefighters and coloured areas indicating key equipment used in the fight to preserve what could be saved. But the real gem in the article are a series of graphics from the firefighters themselves.

Some pretty hot sketches here
Some pretty hot sketches here

Naturally the annotations are all in French. But this French firefighter and sketch artist detailed the progress of the battle during and in the days after the fire. It makes me wish I could read French to understand the five selected sketches the Times chose to use. And I love this line from the Times.

For all the high-tech gear available to big-city fire departments, investigators still see value in old-school tools.

If you are interested in the story of how the cathedral was saved, read the lengthy article. If you just want to see some really amazing and yet wholly practical sketches, scroll through the article until you get to these gems.

Credit for the overall piece goes to Elian Peltier, James Glanz, Mika Gröndahl, Weiyi Cai, Adam Nossiter, and Liz Alderman.

Credit for the sketches goes to Laurent Clerjeau.

New Orleans Dodges a Bullet

Hurricane/tropical storm Barry has been dumping rain along the Gulf Coast for a few days now. But prior to this weekend, the biggest concern had been for the city of New Orleans, which sits besides the swollen Mississippi River. The river was running already high at 17 feet above normal, and with storm surges and tropical rain levels forecast, planners were concerned not with the integrity of the city’s levee system, rebuilt in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, but simply whether they would be tall enough.

So far, they have been.

The Washington Post tracked Barry’s course with the usual graphics showing forecast rainfall amounts and projected tracks. However, the real stunner for me was this cross section illustration of New Orleans that shows just how much of the central city sits below sea level. The cross section sits above a map of the city that shows elevation above/below sea level as well as key flood prevention infrastructure, i.e. levees and pumping stations.

A lot floodable space
A lot floodable space

The unmentioned elephant remains however. The National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration’s extreme climate change impact forecast says the water around New Orleans might rise by nearly 13 feet by 2100. Clearly, that is still well below the 20 feet levees of today. But what if there were to be a 17 feet high Mississippi River atop the additional 13 feet? 30 feet would flood the city.

Credit for the piece goes to John Muyskens, Armand Emamdjomeh, Aaron Steckelberg, Lauren Tierney, and Laris Karklis.