ImagineRio – There’s an app for that

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How does one witness the formation and the transformation of a city? Through documents and historic accounts, historians would say. Through maps and urban plans, architects would recommend. An interactive map developed by professors from Rice University, in Texas, brings together these two views in imagineRio, an online tool already available for consultation, but in a continuous process of expansion, which shows the history of the city from 1500 until today.

Upon scrolling through the timeline of imagineRio, we can see the first buildings and streets cropping up in the middle of what was previously a wide, green surface; we can follow the leveling of the hills, the drainage of the swamps, the formation of the landfills, the deforesting, the coffee plantation and even the replanting of trees that lead to the Tijuca Forest. The map also allows one to compare the city as it is with imaginative projects, which never left the planning stage, such as French architect Le Corbusier’s urban plan proposed in 1936.

“We saw that a digital tool would be more adequate to show the transformation of Rio over time, once the city had a need to overcome its geography and “project” its own environment to exist”, said Farès el-Dahdah, professor of architecture at Rice University and one of the coordinators of the project, in an email interview. “Rio’s physical and social landscape in constant change took on a spatial and temporal contextualization in a digital environment where we integrated vectored, spatial and cartographical data.”

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For now, imagineRio can only be accessed by normal web browsers, but the idea is to also transform it into an app so that tourists and residents can walk through Rio observing the city as it was and how it was planned. According to Farés, the project could be useful “for historians, who could visualize locations of specific research, be them spatial or temporal, for architects and urbanists who could see proposed urbanistic projects in their respective contexts; for literary researchers who could map novels while they view specific neighborhoods; and for archeologists who can now contextualize complex stratigraphies, whether through time or in space.”

Aside from Farès, imagineRio was also created by historian Alida Metcalf, a professor at Rice University. The project started in 2009, when the International Olympic Committee announced that Rio de Janeiro would be the host of the 2016 Olympics. “We decided to create a project that could take advantage of our expertise and compose an urban and social history of a city like Rio de Janeiro”, says Farès. As a starting point, the duo started to teach a class over three years on the urban and social history of the city. They also connected with Niterói’s Secretary of Urbanism and Mobility and with Rio’s Coordination of Territorial Planning department — aside from inumerous other Brazilian researchers and government employees who helped to access cartographical, iconographic and geospatial material of the city.

“The most difficult part was learning to understand the ‘language’ of the databases”, says Farès. For this — to create and connect diverse maps and data —, they counted on help from Axis Maps, a company that produces interactive maps on demand. “You can imagine how complicated this was for two humanists, but it went well”, jokes Farès.

Since imagineRio still isn’t finalized nor intends to be finished, this year Farès plans to invite Brazilian researchers for a stay at Rice University in order to “work with us on specific historical questions, such as transport, sewage, hydric infrastructure, etc.”. “We are also going to invite researchers to work with us remotely and, at some point, try some type of collective content contribution”, adds Farès. – Source (PT)
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Interesting! Earlier this year, for a moment, I imagined what RioThen might be like as an app, and what came to my mind was the same idea – that the posts might be mapped so that anyone could access them and create their own historical tour of Rio. 

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