[Editor's note: When asked to report the length of a border frontier I often pause a moment to reflect on map scale and precision. Both are developed in this article by Sam Roberts on how New York City has just shrunk by 5% in area due to a few cartographic slights of hand.]
By SAM ROBERTS. Published: May 22, 2008. Thanks Denny.
Somehow, Michael S. Miller resisted the temptation when he got home not long ago.“Honey,” he would have been completely justified in proclaiming to his wife, “I shrank the city.”
Mr. Miller, a geographer for the Department of City Planning, has calculated that New York City is 17 square miles smaller than it was long thought to be.
For two decades, the city’s official directory, the Green Book, has stated definitively that the five boroughs encompass nearly 322 square miles of land.
Not so, Mr. Miller and his staff recently discovered: New York’s land area actually totals 304.8 square miles.
The shrinkage generally is not the result of rising sea levels from global warming or beach erosion or any other act of nature. It is largely the work of man, mainly Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, whose yen to precisely measure everything from poverty to traffic congestion led the planning department to recalculate the city’s land mass.
Acting on the mayor’s mandate, Mr. Miller and his team spent months analyzing thousands of digitized, high-resolution aerial photographs of the squiggling shoreline and other geographic features to calculate the city’s size anew.“
This is not a reflection of a change in the physical area, but a refinement of the measurement,” Mr. Miller said.Seventeen square miles may not seem like much. But consider:
¶17 square miles could accommodate 13 more Central Parks, nearly a third of Washington, D.C., about three dozen versions of Vatican City and nearly two dozen replicas of Monaco.
¶If 17 square miles were populated at Manhattan’s density, New York might be home to as many as 1.1 million more people.
¶At the price of an acre in Midtown, as recently computed by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, 17 square miles could be worth $1 trillion.
Mr. Miller said the recalculation probably would have little practical effect, other than revising the land area chart in the 2008 Green Book and amending other official records, textbooks and statistical abstracts. Its psychological impact might be significant, however, coming as it does at a time of political and economic uncertainty. With Wall Street firms shrinking, how will people respond to the news that Brooklyn is, too?
“All everybody else can talk about is how much bigger China and India are getting,” said Sylvie Smoke, 59, a retiree from the Upper West Side. “And we are losing it.”
On the other hand, given the effect of the credit crisis on real estate prices, some property owners might be pleased. If there is less land, maybe it will be worth more.
“I guess,” said Mike Slattery, senior vice president for research of the Real Estate Board of New York, “it’s good news for those who still have it.”
Planning department officials stress that their new measurement is only an estimate, an approximation subject to the vagaries of time. Over the course of four centuries, they note, the city’s land area has actually grown because adjacent waterways were reclaimed for development in Lower Manhattan and in Queens to extend the runways at Kennedy International and La Guardia Airports.
The new estimate, which will appear in the 2008 Green Book, to be released next month, reduces New York’s official size by about 5 percent.
But even in its supposedly diminished form, New York still ranks 14th in land area among cities with more than 100,000 people, according to the United States Census Bureau. (Anchorage covers nearly 1,700 square miles; Jacksonville, Fla., 758.) The new calculation also conforms more closely to census estimates.
Mr. Miller, 52, the planning department’s deputy director of information technology, said the apparent loss in land mass was distributed throughout the city.
“There’s no neighborhood that’s vanished,” he said.
That said, about seven square miles of the difference could be accounted for by better measurements of the islands and peninsulas in Jamaica Bay. And it appears that Brooklyn shrank the most, by about 12 percent, to 72 square miles from 82.