UPDATE: The 1920’s New York Project has already moved to a full sim. This is its new location in SL. The SLURLs on the post have been updated.
Historical reconstruction and role-playing has found a breeding ground in Second Life, and one of the most impressive examples of such an endeavor that I’ve stumbled upon in the virtual world is the 1920’s New York Project. It recreates a section of Lower Manhattan, more or less as it would be in the second decade of the 20th Century, and it’s reach in details – as I hope the photos on this post will show (the photos, by the way, are displayed here in two versions: both in color and in black and white).
The Project recreates the streets around Jeanette Park – which corresponds today to the Vietnam Veterans Plaza. The old plan of the area, which is different from today’s configuration, can be seen, for instance, on this map, available on The New York Public Library Digital Collections. The Project is still under construction (though it’s already open to the public)
and Jeanette Park, itself, is not there yet, but the plan is to build it soon, I think (UPDATE: Jeanette Park has been added to the sim). If I could understand it well, the 1920’s New York Project will move to a full sim when the current phase is completed. When it moves, we will probably be able to see the harbor, since the place, which now floats in the air, will finally land and gain some waterfront (UPDATE: The 1920’s New York Project has moved to a full sim, as stated in the beginning of this post, and waterfront is there already).
As their own website shows, the Project’s aim is to reconstruct, as close as possible, the streets of old New York with the help of historical photos and extensive research. Its author and builder, Jogi Schultz, seems to have invested a lot of his time in those tasks – but, of course, as he says, some adaptation is required to make the buildings and structures fit SL’s scales and characteristics.
The 1920’s New York Project resembles, to a great extent, the famous 1920s Berlin Project. Actually, you can even find a teleport to the 1920s Berlin at the 1920’s New York arrival point – and it’s not difficult to understand why that particular decade has an amazing potential to historical recreations. After all, those were the Roaring Twenties, the Jazz Age, the Golden Age, the french Années Folles, marked by the economic boom after World War I (though not so widespread, and Germany is an example of a depression in the early 1920s), artistic effervescence and big social and political transformations – including the rise of communism and fascism, but also the advance of feminism and some decolonization movements.
In the 1920s, New York became the most populated city in the world. Skyscrapers’ multiplication accelerated in Manhattan. But those were also the Prohibition years in the US, when alcoholic beverages were forbidden. The ban arrived with its counterpart: the speakeasies, which Lower Manhattan seemed to know well. The region also saw the emergence of radio stores – an element that would help transform culture, along with the youth rebellion of the ’20s and jazz.
Historical reconstruction in Second Life allows one to try the taste of such a world by means of role-playing. For sure, it’s not like living in those times, but it’s still an immersive experience of enactment and representation. In order to make the experience as strong as possible, visitors are required to abide by some rules, including the place’s dress code and the attempt to act, at least superficially, as someone in the 1920s would – even if one is not a hard role-player.
It’s also worth remarking that the 1920’s New York Project gathers an active and enthusiastic community that makes the place shine. I haven’t met all the people involved with it, of course, but all my interactions with the ones I could talk to were very friendly and pleasant. It certainly confirms the potential of SL for housing historical-based role-playing and communities.