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With a grant from the National Park Service’s National Center for Preservation Technology and Training (NCPTT), Jennifer Minner, assistant professor, and Jeffrey M. Chusid, associate professor in Cornell University’s Department of City and Regional Planning, investigated the use of 4D geographic information systems (GIS) modeling in preservation efforts at the site of the 1939–40 and 1965–65 world’s fairs. The term 4D refers to 3D modeling plus the ability to visualize and analyze change over time.

Flushing Meadows Corona Park, which is located in the Queens borough of New York City, was the site of Minner and Chusid’s investigation. Now, a municipal park, it has undergone indigenous people prior to European settlement in the 17th century, to infamous dump site, to the location of two world’s fairs in 1939-40 and 1964-65, and as a municipal park and location of notable sports stadia. Despite many changes, the past remains embedded in the park’s landscapes. Artifacts left over from the fairs include the park’s infrastructure, former pavilions, public art, pathways, and fountains. Over the years, steps have been taken to preserve and revitalize this important park. However, questions remain about how best to steward the park’s historical assets and cultural landscapes. The complexity of planning and preservation in the park made it a particularly useful place to test the capabilities of 4D GIS technology to inform historic preservation and planning efforts.

As part of their research, Cornell faculty, graduate and undergraduate students, staff, and a high school student tested a tool called CityEngine. They modeled geographic, architectural, and landscape information. The outcomes of their research include 3D scenes of the park showing past, present, and possible future conditions. The researchers studied available 3D and GIS tools to understand the particular strengths and weakness of CityEngine. Although the research team found substantial limitations to CityEngine as a 4D GIS, they hope this research will spur additional technological development to better serve the needs of the field of preservation.

The research blog A World’s Fair Landscape in Time: documents this work. The researchers also published articles, including “Time, Architecture, and Geography: Modeling the Past and Future of Cultural Landscapes,” APT Bulletin 47(2-3): 49-58, which won an Oliver Torrey Fuller Award “for the most outstanding article demonstrating technical excellence and innovation in preservation practice” from the Association for Preservation Technology last year. A new book chapter by Minner titled “Geodesign, Resilience, and the Future of Former Mega-Event Sites” was published in Planning Support Science for Smarter Urban Futures, editors Andrew Allan, Stan Geertman, Chris Pettit, and John Stillwell (Springer, 2017).

Screenshot of fairground showing in blue the location of the New York State pavillion

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National Center for Preservation Technology and Training
645 University Parkway
Natchitoches, LA 71457

Email: ncptt[at]
Phone: (318) 356-7444
Fax: (318) 356-9119