Bringing History to LinkNYC Kiosks

When technology, open city data, and history are combined.

LinkNYC kiosk showing an image of 1 Times Square, ca. 1908.

Some great news for history buffs! Starting today, we are bringing history to New York City streets. Thanks to our friends at LinkNYC and the Museum of the City of New York, LinkNYC kiosks will now allow passersby to discover what the surrounding streets looked like a century ago.

LinkNYC kiosk at Orchard and Hester showing a photograph from that location in 1898.

If you’re wondering what LinkNYC is, the system launched in early 2016, erecting kiosks throughout New York’s five boroughs. Over the past few years, they have been cropping up to replace pay phones, providing New Yorkers with free Wi-Fi, phone calls, device charging, and city maps, among other services.

And now, through a joint venture with Museum of the City of New York and LinkNYC, these terminals will provide New Yorkers with a new perspective on places where they live and work. Someone passing through the Lower East Side, for example, might walk by the Link terminal on Orchard Street and see photographs of 19th-century immigrant street vendors setting up shop just a few feet away.

The Urban Archive platform maps historical images, like 85 Hester Street pictured here, and then sends them to nearby LinkNYC kiosks.

So, how does it work?

We’ve synchronized our mapping technology with the LinkNYC system! Once an archival photo is integrated into the Urban Archive map, our software will push and publish the image to one of the LinkNYC kiosks. There are currently 1,736 active Link kiosks, but soon the system will feature content across 7,500 kiosks throughout the five boroughs.

Map of all the LinkNYC kiosk locations (left), Urban Archive’s map of located historical images (center), Urban Archive integration on a Link Kiosk (right)
Images within 200 meters of a kiosk are pulled in and displayed.

Because Urban Archive’s platform is location-based, each photo that surfaces on a kiosk was geo-located within 200 meters of the Link terminal.

“This mapping technology creates an exciting new way for New Yorkers and visitors to see historic photography of the streets they’re walking on just by passing a LinkNYC kiosk,” said Samir Saini, Commissioner of the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications. “We are thrilled to partner with MCNY to demonstrate the value of data visualization through this unique experience that everyone walking down the street can enjoy.”

But, of course, this project could not work without quality archival photographs. The Museum of the City of New York’s photographic collections provides a striking visual history of New York over the last century and a half, from images of the dedication of Grant’s Tomb in 1897 to the storied history of synagogues in the Lower East Side in the 1970s. Through our collaboration with the Museum of the City of New York, we’ve worked to highlight the breadth and depth of the museum’s photography collections at Link terminals all over the five boroughs.

“Our expansive collection of more than 750,000 objects, including photography, documents New York City’s history dating back to the 17th Century,” said Whitney Donhauser, Ronay Menschel Director and President, Museum of the City of New York. “Working with LinkNYC, DoITT, and Urban Archive enables us to provide content beyond the walls of the Museum while creating unique experiences for New Yorkers and tourists alike.”

MCNY photos are published to Link NYC kiosks, directly from the Urban Archive platform.

Our partnership with LinkNYC and MCNY is a perfect example of what can be done when technology, open city data, and history are combined. The LinkNYC integration showcases MCNY’s digital collections in relevant locations while encouraging the exploration of city history. As LinkNYC continues to expand its network across the city, we will be rolling out new photographs from MCNY in the months to come.

Thanks for reading, and make sure to check out Historic NYC on the Link kiosks you pass everyday!