The Mannahatta Project is turning back the pages of time. Have you ever wondered what Manhattan Island looked like before the Dutch arrived in 1609? Hint: it was green– covered with forests, streams, wildlife and with a topography completely unrelated to today’s skyscrapers and concrete canyons.
After nearly a decade of research, Eric W. Sanderson and his colleagues at the Wildlife Conservation Society, have created a veritable virtual time machine which you can try out online via their amazing map. With a click of the mouse, you can see any address in Manhattan as it was in 1609 which is great fun for anyone who has lived in, or ever visited New York, NY.
But more than that, it gives anyone who is interested in the environment an idea of how profoundly man has changed and shaped nature in just a few hundred years on one 26 mile long island in the middle of the Hudson River.
The island that the Lenape Indians called “Mannahatta” or “island of many hills” once contained more than 500 hills, 60 miles of streams and more than 300 springs. There were sandy beaches, oak-pine forests, and more than 1000 species of plants and animals.
The goal of the Mannahatta project has never been to decry the loss of a pristine natural habitat– but rather to look at how bio-diversity has been replaced by social and cultural diversity. The project makes no judgments. It simply chronicles the changes resulting from New York City, and that is what makes it so fascinating. You can read all about it online here.
If you are going to be in New York, the Mannahatta project is the subject of a wonderful new exhibit that opened last week and The Museum of the City of New York. It will be on view till October 12th. Try to get to it if you can.
If you want to read more, be sure to check out Manhatta: A Natural History of New York City.