Press Release: “Then and Now ” Aerial Photos of NYC Now Available Online

OASIS, an interactive mapping website, now offers high resolution aerial photographs from 1996 and 2004, enabling urban planners, park stewards, and others interested in New York City’s development to view “then and now” maps for any neighborhood in the city’s five boroughs.  The website is hosted by the CUNY Graduate Center’s for Urban Research, where the CUNY Mapping Service is among a coalition of 60 community greening groups, educators, individuals, businesses, nonprofits, and public agencies involved in the Open Accessible Space Information System (OASIS) project. The website, including sample comparison images, can be found at

Website users can toggle between the photos to see the impact of development in the city. They can view and map where parks have been created or improved, buildings have been demolished or constructed, waterfront development has occurred, and how the built environment in their neighborhood has changed. For example, users can view where the Twin Towers once stood compared with recent construction at the World Trade Center.

“These new aerial photos give us a bird’s eye view of what's changed in the city from a decade ago,” said Paula Hewitt Amram of Open Road, a nonprofit that develops programs and outdoor environments with and for young people. “This is an invaluable resource for planners of all ages who use online tools to better understand their neighborhoods,” she emphasized.

The website provides “the richest source of community maps for New York City – free and all in one place online,” according to the site’s tagline. OASIS is guided by a collaborative partnership of organizations and individuals who use online mapping technology to help sustain the city’s open spaces and visualize the nexus between community greening and broader urban planning issues. The website is accessed by tens of thousands of people every year who use it to make more than 1 million maps annually. The project was initiated in 2000 with leadership and financial support from the USDA Forest Service, and has been sustained since then with Forest Service funding, foundation grants, and contributions from partner groups.

“OASIS complements global mapping sites like Google and Yahoo by offering richly layered local maps,” said Steven Romalewski, director of the CUNY Mapping Service at the Graduate Center. “OASIS is its own ‘map mashup’, bringing together disparate data sets to provide easily customizable views of the city. The aerial photos can be integrated with maps of parks, gardens, habitat sites, and wetlands, as well as a wealth of information about land use patterns, transit, schools, housing, and more.”

The US Geological Survey provided the 2004 photos as part of its National Map program. Staff with the New York office of the mapping software company Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI) volunteered their spatial data expertise to integrate the imagery into the OASIS website. ESRI is a founding partner of OASIS and continues to provide advice and technical support. The earlier 1996 photos were provided by the New York City Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications.

Visitors to OASIS can also view infrared aerial photos from 2001. These are at a lower resolution, but they enable mapping analysts to visualize land patterns such as impervious surfaces versus tree cover.

Links to selected “then and now” photos are also available at the social bookmarking website ( Examples include:

  • the World Trade Center site;
  • Central Park’s Great Lawn (largely a dirt field in 1996, but fully landscaped with green grass and ballfields by 2004);
  • the Riverside South development on Manhattan’s upper west side (open space in 1996 but luxury apartment buildings by 2004);
  • the East Elmhurst natural gas tanks in Queens (once a famous landmark to commuters from Long Island, but razed by 2004);
  • the Queens West development site (vacant land in 1996, high rise apartment buildings by 2004);
  • Home Depot’s big box store location in Red Hook, Brooklyn (vacant land on the Gowanus Canal in 1996, transformed to a Home Depot by 2004); and
  • the Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island (the world's largest landfill before it was closed in 2001, but by 2004 landscaping had begun and it is on its way to becoming one of New York’s largest parks).

The Graduate Center is the doctorate-granting institution of The City University of New York (CUNY). An internationally recognized center for advanced studies and a national model for public doctoral education, the school offers more than thirty doctoral programs, as well as a number of master’s programs. Many of its faculty members are among the world’s leading scholars in their respective fields, and its alumni hold major positions in industry and government, as well as in academia. The Graduate Center is also home to twenty-eight interdisciplinary research centers and institutes focused on areas of compelling social, civic, cultural, and scientific concerns. Located in a landmark Fifth Avenue building, The Graduate Center has become a vital part of New York City’s intellectual and cultural life with its extensive array of public lectures, exhibitions, concerts, and theatrical events. Further information on The Graduate Center and its programs can be found at

Submitted on: JAN 1, 2007

Category: Press Room