The development of New York city in four easy pictures, for your viewing pleasure. Notice the significant jump in the height of the buildings by 1932? Most of this had only occurred within the couple of years before the second photo was taken: 1930-31 saw construction of five New York skyscrapers that are still among the top ten tallest today, among them the monumental Empire State Building (see the list here).
September 11th 2001 lies glaringly between the last two photos. The (unknown) creator of this particular montage has penned-in the 1 World Trade Center building (a.k.a. ‘Freedom Tower’) which is currently under construction at Ground Zero. It is set to be completed in 2013. Long may it stand.
In 1906, San Francisco experienced one of the most devastating earthquakes in history. Reportedly measuring around 8 on the Richter scale, the shaking was felt from Oregon to Los Angeles along the coast, and as far inland as Nevada. The earthquake caused fires that destroyed almost the entire city of San Francisco, resulting in an estimated death toll of over 3,000.
The photo below was taken just over a month after the event, making the San Francisco earthquake one of the first natural disasters to be recorded on film. By 2006, the city has managed to rebuild itself quite nicely, and even added a couple of bridges (the Golden Gate bridge is off the frame – but it’s definitely there!)
Opinions seem to differ on the date of the first picture – it could have been taken in the 80s – but either way it’s clear that it’s a picture of very little. Now just add a little oil, sprinkle with some laissez-faire building regulations, fast-forward only halfway through one of the biggest construction booms of the modern world, and the result by 2003 is a significant facelift for Dubai’s Sheikh Zayed Road. No longer such a lonely place!
But Dubai didn’t stop in 2003. In 2010 it topped the Ultrapolis charts for having the tallest tall buildings in the world. That’s helped to no small degree by the undisputed world champion tall building, the Burj Khalifa.
This is what happens when the Chinese government says, “Right, we are now going to develop this area.” Pictured is only one small part of the city of Shanghai, but, my, how quickly it has grown up! Since 1990, Shanghai has built…wait for it…6,704 buildings of 11 stories or more! That includes the former tallest building in the world (and current tallest hotel), the Shanghai World Financial Center.
What makes these pictures all the more remarkable is that the buildings almost seem to chart China’s economic development. Take a look at this trade graph between 1990 and 2010.
Unfortunately, Shanghai is having to calm down a bit on the construction front these days, as the city is sinking at the rate of about one and a half centimetres a year. Well, it is built on a drained swamp. Doh!
Newcastle upon Tyne
Newcastle upon Tyne in the north-east of England. Granted, not a great deal of skyscrapers here – none, to be precise – but there are loads of bridges. The one just being completed there in 1928 is the Tyne Bridge. That’s a good 9 years before the Golden Gate Bridge, incidentally. Of course, the first bridge over the Tyne was the Pons Aelius, built by the Romans in the year 122 AD. Oh yes, we’re old hands at this.
Upsala glacier (Argentina)
Here is the other side of the developmental coin. As the cities grow, amazing natural features are fading away. The Upsala glacier (named after the Swedish university that first sponsored research in the area) is one of the most potent examples of this. One of 47 glaciers in Argentina’s Los Glaciares National Park, it has shrunk by 5km between 1980-2000.
Glaciers throughout the Andes are retreating so fast that some are expected to disappear within 10-20 years, threatening food and water supplies in Colombia, Peru, Chile, Venezuela, Ecuador, Argentina and Bolivia. The same drastic trend has been observed throughout the world since the 1980s.