The Panorama of the City of New York, NYC

Panorama of the City of New York

Inside the Queen’s Museum of Art in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, New York City spreads out as far as the eye can see. NYC full size is dazzling enough, so who’d have thought a smaller version could be even more remarkable. Words become redundant here – it is massive but also miniscule. The panorama covers 9,335 square metres but to fit the whole New York area in the buildings, all 895,000 of them, are tiny. The Empire State Building is only 15 inches high but that’s not to do it down. The detail is mind-boggling. Every building, park and road is here with New York’s iconic landmarks and bridges perfectly modelled. In the distance there are bridges and gasometers, and even a little tiny plane taking off from La Guardia airport.

As if that wasn’t wonderful enough, when the panorama opened in 1964 for the World’s Fair in what was then the New York Pavilion, 1400 visitors a day were flown over the city in a little car which simulated a helicopter's eye view. These days viewing is from a walkway round the edge but it’s tempting to jump the rail and walk round it like a colossus, peering into windows and frightening the tiny inhabitants.

Conceived by Robert Moses, President of the World’s Fair Corporation, it took a team of 100 people from Raymond Lester & Associates 3 years to build. At the time of its creation it was the world’s largest scale model. The original contract called for less than one percent margin of error. Regular maintenance kept the panorama up to date until 1970 then there was a lull until 60,000 buildings were updated in 1992. Today it is still kept up to date, more or less. The twin towers of the World Trade Center are still standing here with a commemorative plaque nearby.

Panorama of the City of New York

Devised as an urban planning tool, buildings are colour coded. New York’s vast public housing projects are highlighted in pink. Seeing them picked out like that shows at a glance how the city is segregated. Municipal services have little lights on them and the main lighting runs on a cycle from dawn to dusk. Watching night fall over this little city is very soothing and seeing it all spread out helps when you find your way back to real life New York.

If only all cities had one of these, but forty years on technology means there will never be any call to do this sort of thing again. Now we can see a city, zoom in, zoom out and quickly take off round the globe to see some more. Instead of making this redundant it makes it all the more wonderful, that something so painstaking to create and so absolutely perfect is still bringing joy to New Yorkers and visitors alike.

How to get there

The Panorama of the City of New York is in The Queen’s Museum of Art in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. In the park head for the Unisphere. The Museum is directly behind it. Map & directions.

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