Level Up Your New York City Smarts with These Free Online Tools

Tree-lined streets, public artworks, and graceful buildings with stories to tell are the things that make neighborhoods—and cities—worth claiming. But to really claim a place—especially a place like New York City—is to know its virtues as more than set dressing. To that end, we’ve picked three totally free online tools that will boost your NYC smarts: A zoomable map of every street-side tree in the five boroughs, a glossary of hundreds of artworks in subway stations from 241st Street to Far Rockaway, and a block-by-block interactive tour through a vast trove of historic images.

NYC Parks interactive online tool maps every street-side tree in the city.
A tree grows in Brooklyn—175,556 of them, in fact. Pictured on the right is NYC Parks specimen #3732239, a thornless honey locust.

NYC Parks’ New York City Street Tree Map

There’s a linden tree, six inches in diameter, near the Corcoran office on Madison Avenue. Thousands of Upper East Siders pass it each day, though few seem to give it much notice. But the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation is paying attention. According to the agency’s New York City Street Tree Map, this little linden is tree #570567, and its annual ecological value is a cool $73.45.

This sprawling interactive website documents the location, species, and trunk diameter of 678,619 street-side trees (park trees are excluded) across all five boroughs, and includes a log of maintenance activities (e.g., a Japanese pagoda tree on Gates Avenue in Brooklyn enjoyed a weeding and mulching on September 15) and a stat box of urban ecological benefits (e.g., that particular Japanese pagoda offsets 2,275 pounds of carbon dioxide each year). For serious urban arborists, this is an immersive research tool; for amateur tree-huggers, it’s a giant digital leaf pile.

nycsubway.org's online Subway Art Guide tool highlights some 300 works in subway stations across the city.
Installed in 2010, William Low’s “A Day in Parkchester” adds a splash of color to the East 177th Street-Parkchester 6-train station in the Bronx.

NYCSubway.org’s Subway Art Guide

In the passages of the 1- and 9-train station at 50th Street and Broadway, there are four marvelous terra cotta mosaic murals depicting—in dreamy silhouette—unmistakable scenes from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. To many frazzled subway-goers, the murals are no more remarkable than the MTA maps and Broadway show posters with which they share these walls. But art-smart New Yorkers know the pieces, installed in 1994, are the work of Argentinian artist Liliana Porter, who took her inspiration from English illustrator John Tenniel’s 1865 drawings for the first edition of Carroll’s story.

The Subway Art Guide, created by the exhaustive enthusiast site nycsubway.org, offers photos and a bit of background on 298 pieces of public art—mosaics, glasswork, paintings, and sculptural installations—in stations across the city.

The OldNYC online tool leverages some 40,000 NYPL historical images of New York City.
Today, 365 Fifth Avenue is the City University of New York’s Graduate Center; in 1906, it opened as the luxury department store B. Altman & Company.

OldNYC and the NYPL Image Archive

It may be thrilling (or depressing) to discover that your favorite Starbucks on 23rd Street occupies the ground floor of Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Edith Wharton’s the childhood home. Such surprises, happy or less so, await NYC sleuths in the endlessly fascinating OldNYC project.

Launched in May of 2015 by Brooklyn-based digital developer Dan Vanderkam, OldNYC leverages some 40,000 historical images in the New York Public Library’s vast Milstein Collection, documenting—block by block—more than a century of New York City street scenes. Along with a delightfully browsable desktop web experience, in which images link back to the New York Public Library’s Digital Collections hub (where they can be downloaded at web resolution or ordered at print resolution), OldNYC has a terrific iPhone app with location awareness that turns a casual neighborhood stroll into a blast from the past.

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