Thursday, January 22, 2015

Then and Now: A Visual Study of Urban Development

So, today I had some fun with Google Earth's "historical imagery" feature. Apparently the U.S. Geological Survey imaged much of Minnesota, including the Twin Cities, by satellite from 1991 to 1992. The images are relatively low-resolution (click them to enlarge) and black and white, which makes them look older than they really are, but at any rate some of the contrasts are pretty striking. At the airport, a large section of houses is now a new runway:

The Walker's parking lot moved underground, and the Guthrie moved from its old location...

To the new one. Meanwhile, Gold Medal Park used to be a parking lot...

As did Target Field.

The U lost one large stadium and gained another (wow, that was a huge parking lot):

The Crosstown intersection used to suck...

Brookdale Mall used to be a thing...

The old Ford Plant was still around...

The Minneapolis Convention Center had one less room...

The BAE building was much more bustling and not-getting-torn-down...

And, of course, the old Metrodome was still with us.

In the case of suburbs that were new in the early 90s, the tree growth is very noticeable:

But the most striking differences, at least for me, are those surrounding Shakopee, the exurb where I work. US Highway 169, the main connection to it, has undergone a lot of development in the past 20 years, which was responsible for a lot of the changes in Shakopee. This can be seen in the intersection with I-494, which you may remember used to be terrible. Now it takes up about twice as much space and, for all its complexity, is much faster.

Then it was full of at-grade intersections; today there are none until the far southwestern end of Shakopee.

Formerly, 169 more or less stopped at Old Shakopee Road.

The nearest river crossing was the old two-lane ferry bridge, which I know (from having biked across its current version) is accessible only by a steep hill and prone to flooding.

In 1996, this bridge was replaced by the current ferry bridge, extending 169 as a freeway all the way through Shakopee.

Comparing the imagery from 1992 and today, the difference this extension has made is obvious. Enormous swaths of land previously covered by unimproved land or businesses are now freeway:

On the other end, instead of going straight into downtown Shakopee, 169 bypasses it to the south.

Most of the growth follows the new course of the freeway. Many acres of what used to be pristine land are now housing developments...

Or shopping areas.

Valleyfair is still there (albeit without attractions like the Wild Thing or Steel Venom):

But in other places, the transformation is near-total:

The change in the neighborhood of my office is especially striking, probably because I am more familiar with it. Dozens of new businesses are sprouting up along the freeway:

Immediately around my office (visible at the bottom of the new image), Canterbury Park, a restaurant, and a huge warehouse are the only constants. Nearly everything else is new.

You don't really notice how drastic these changes are until you get a change to compare them side by side. I feel old...

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