San Francisco, 1894 & 2014

Geomorphology is the process of how landforms get their shapes. It's a lot easier to do with access to satellite imagery. No satellites in 1894, but pair this map with modern Landsat photos to track how San Francisco Bay Area has changed in the intervening 120 years.

Illustration for article titled San Francisco, 1894 & 2014

1894 cadastral map.

This cadastral map of the San Francisco Bay Area in 1894 is in that meticulous illustrative style that makes me fall in love with aging manuscripts. Its purpose is to record land ownership, but it also holds a record of topography and coast lines.


Fast forward 120 years, an here's a satellite image of San Francisco Bay Area:

Illustration for article titled San Francisco, 1894 & 2014

2014 satellite image.

This Landsat photograph is just that — a photograph of what exists, now, in San Francisco. Yet along with the physical geography of mountains and coastlines, you can spot development from the harsh lines and white concrete, and even the darker-blue of dredging channels within the bay. It tells the story of natural landforms, and how they have been shaped by humans crawling all over them.


From the NASA caption:

By 1894, when this map was made, San Francisco had already transformed from a Spanish Mission and Mexican Ranchero "little community" visited mainly by trappers to a bustling gold boomtown receiving a thousand immigrants per week in 1849 and then into an established metropolis (sometimes referred to as the Paris of the West) striving for municipal infrastructure improvements and often stymied by machine politics.

What is striking when comparing the street grid of 1894 San Francisco to the natural color Landsat 8 image acquired on August 23, 2013 is the small portion of the peninsula that the city covered then compared to its extent today. The city was also much harder to reach. In 1894, the city could only be visited by sea or by a long land journey around the southernmost portion of the Bay. Today, the Golden Gate Bridge and Bay Bridge (not to mention the Bay Area Rapid Transit's transbay tubes) easily convey people and goods into the city of San Francisco.

On the Landsat image, white and grey areas are dense development. During the intervening century between the map's creation and the Landsat image, the named land parcels were subdivided and developed as the region's population marched steadily westward across the San Francisco peninsula and eastward into the foothills of Alameda County, becoming more connected with each passing year.


My ongoing devoted crush on NASA imagery continues. Read more on the Landsat website (which is the source of photos & quotes, of course).

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