The Eiffel Tower in Paris. The Gherkin in London. And now, the Aiken Street Bridge in Lowell?
That’s right. Lowell landmarks have arrived on a worldwide stage thanks to 3D design guru Beryl Reid. The Mill City has been chosen as one of six finalists in Google’s 2012 Model Your Town competition – and is one of only two U.S. cities to make the cut.
“I love Lowell because it’s not too gentrified yet,” says Reid, a former art and computer teacher in Billerica Public Schools. “There’s not a Starbuck’s on every corner. It feels real. There’s a gritty side of this city. It’s not an Andover. It’s not a Lexington. It really has its own soul.”
The people at Google thought so too, after viewing Reid’s contest entry for Lowell.
Google sponsors the Model Your Town contest as an incentive for individuals to contribute models from communities worldwide. The 3D designs are used in Google Earth, an application that’s been downloaded more than one billion times by people around the globe.
The models, says Reid, enrich the maps service by helping people anywhere in the world find their way around major cities and landmarks with a few simple clicks on their laptop or mobile device.
The 3D layer is also used by major news networks and local affiliates to illustrate news stories, and is a popular tool for town and city planning departments to better understand the impact of proposed developments and aid in urban planning.
Reid created 258 detailed models of Lowell using Google’s Sketch Up program.
Haffner’s filling station, City Hall, the Aiken Street Bridge, Jack Kerouac’s house. You name it. Reid built it in 3D.
Some images took her eight hours or more to create from the ground up, using an involved photo layering process.
Canvassing Lowell’s most notable sites, Reid took hundreds of her own pictures and researched history on the structures she replicated. So on Google Earth, viewers will be able to click on images and get a short history lesson to boot.
Moving from Boston in 1978, Reid settled in the city’s South Lowell neighborhood with her family.
She started working on Google’s Sketch Up program as a way to get her students more involved in art.
“Kids think in 3D more than adults do,” she says. “It was a fun way for them to learn but the more I used it, I became addicted to it.”
In fact, Reid sent so many of her models into Google that the company praised her with “Super Modeler” status in 2009 – a distinction she shared with only 59 others in the world!
Although she shares her models for free, Reid says it’s a labor she loves and that Google has been “generous and supportive” to work with. Last year, they sent their “Super Modeler” on a paid trip to Rome for her involvement with the Google Earth group. She’s a top contributor on the site’s “help forum.”
Still, she was surprised to hear her Lowell contest package made the final six out of 231 entries from around the world.
“It’s very exciting,” she says. “Lowell is a beautiful and unique city. I’m just happy that more people from all over the world will get to see it the way I do.”
Besides Evansville, Ind. in the U.S., other finalists include Getaria, Gipuzkoa, Spain; Leominster, Herefordshire, United Kingdom; Tourn, Kujawsko-Pomorskie, Poland; and Zielona Gora, Lubuskie, Poland.
The winner of the contest will be determined by an online public vote between April 1 and May 1. Individuals can vote for their favorite here: http://www.google.com/intl/en/sketchup/competitions/modelyourtown/vote.html.
The grand prize winner will be announced on May 15, and will receive $25,000 for their local public school district, a video profile of the winning team, a virtual tour of the winning city, as well as international publicity.
Visit the website and click on Lowell to vote!