Posted in design and architecture, engineering, museum

Saving the mini-World

Want to take an aerial tour of San Francisco or New York in less than a minute? Go visit a scale model of it!

When I first saw the pictures of these incredibly detailed model cities, I thought of the Peter Pan ride at Disneyland, or how I could be King Kong. But these miniature city models are for SCIENCE! These models have been used to track urban sprawl, population growth, and even environmental influences on cities, or vice versa.

“In 1957 the US Army Corps of Engineers created the Bay Model, a replica of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta meant to simulate the impact of public works projects and disasters—natural and man-made—on currents and tides.”

It can also document and model historical aspects of the city, such as Chicago’s railway system. By studying the history of how a city (and the ways people got around in it), it is easier to make future plans.

The article features Michael Chesko, who makes model cities as side hobby/side-job, including scouting out cities on his vacations. Now-a-days, computer modelling is typically used since it is considered more cost effective, speedier, and more malleable. But there’s nothing like being able to look at a 3D, tangible model of a scenario, city or otherwise, and trying to solve a problem.



Beth Kelley is an applied & digital anthropologist with an overall interest in how people engage with and are impacted by their environments and vice versa. This has manifested itself in many ways, by looking at creativity, playful spaces, built environments, and environmental enrichment, sustainability, design research, and integrative and collaborative models of learning such as through play and hands-on learning.