60 years has made a big difference in the urban form of American cities. The most rapid change occurred during the mid-century urban renewal period that cleared large tracts of urban land for new highways, parking, and public facilities or housing projects. Fine-grained networks of streets and buildings on small lots were replaced with superblocks and megastructures. While the period did make way for impressive new projects in many cities, many of the scars are still unhealed.

We put together these sliders to show how cities have changed over half a century.

How to Use

Click and drag the slider as shown in the image below to compare images.

Cincinnati, 1955 to 2013

The images of Cincinnati show incredible destruction of dense urban neighborhoods to the west and south of downtown caused by the construction of interstate highways. The riverfront area was cut off from the downtown by a section of I-71 known as Fort Washington Way, but redevelopment has followed successful planning efforts there. In the future, the freeway could be capped to provide better connections to downtown.

Detroit, 1951 to 2010

Much of Detroit is unrecognizable between the 1951 and 2010 aerial views. The iconic radial corridors extending from Campus Martius- Woodward, Gratiot, and Michigan, are among the few things that have stayed the same. In 1951, you can see vast swaths of the city beginning to be cleared for highway spurs and large-scale redevelopments. By 2010, downtown is encircled by highways. A noticeable positive change is the transformation of a confusing intersection at the heart of Detroit into Campus Martius Park, which opened in 2004.

[Update: Michigan Public Radio has provided additional comments on this image.]

St. Louis, 1952 to 2013

In the 1952 St. Louis aerial, the clearance site for the Gateway Arch and surrouning grounds is clearly visibile on the riverfront. Toward the northeast, another large clearance site will be the location of Pruitt-Igoe, the notorious failed public housing development. In the modern aerial, the striking number of vacant lots in north St. Louis is apparent.

Kansas City, 1955 to 2014

Minneapolis, 1953 to 2014

Downtown Minneapolis was also encircled by interstate highways at the expense of dense urban neighborhoods. Downtown East has become the home of an NFL stadium and a significant development called The Yard is planned there.

Milwaukee, 1955 to 2014

Milwaukee sees significant demolition throughout the downtown. However, some efforts have been made to restore the old street patterns. Along the top of the image, the site of the Park East Freeway removal and boulevard replacement has returned land for possible development.

Indianapolis, 1958 to 2014

In Indianapolis, large surface parking lots and institutional uses have replaced many blocks of neighborhoods, and the city’s successful sports and convention area has grown up in the south.

Cleveland, 1952 to 2014

Cleveland’s iconic Public Square has remained since the city’s original plan and The Mall, part of an early 1900s Daniel Burnham plan, continues as an important civic center. Despite losing several blocks of urban fabric, the Warehouse District has evolved into a successful mixed-use area, and the well-preserved area around East Fourth has also become an important district for Cleveland dining and entertainment.

Columbus, 1953 to 2014

Central Columbus is now dotted with surface parking lots and surrounded by freeways. However, the fact that some of the highways are constructed in trenches has allowed interesting solutions like the Cap at Union Station to repair connections to neighborhoods.