Urban Wanderlust

New app transports you through NYC’s historic cityscape with archival photos

East Media
New app transports you through NYC's historic cityscape with archival photos. Seen here: A then and now compilation of Grand Army Plaza viewing the Manhattan Bridge (Courtesy Urban Archive Inc.)
New app transports you through NYC's historic cityscape with archival photos. Seen here: A then and now compilation of Grand Army Plaza viewing the Manhattan Bridge (Courtesy Urban Archive Inc.)

Finally, a digital archive of historic New York City photos that geolocates to your smartphone! This new app mines the digital collections of three NYC cultural institutions, placing the images onto an interactive map of the city.

Working with Brooklyn Historical Society, the New York Public Library, and the Museum of the City of New York, Urban Archive has made accessible over 2,500 images from all five boroughs (sorry New Jersey). The newly formed nonprofit’s ambition is to create apertures into the city’s urban history in a multi-dimensional digital platform that both informs and entertains the public. 

This democratization of images has the potential to allow communities to articulate untold urban histories in a new forum of public engagement. The app has a sophisticated interface that, among other features, sends push notifications when you walk pass a historic building, giving new agency to urban explorers and history enthusiasts. The app also has curated walking tours of certain neighborhoods and a popular side-by-side photo generator that produces images you can share on social media. To “check-in,” you need to be within 150 feet of the chosen location. “Certain check-ins may unlock achievements within the app, so no short cuts are allowed!” Urban Archive says on their website.

(Courtesy Urban Archive Inc.)

While the available database is still in beta testing, Urban Archive continues to sort and geotag some 50,000 additional images, encouraging other institutions to share their collections. The Urban Archive iOS app requires an iPhone running iOS 10 or later. No iPad or Android versions are available yet.

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