FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Before Manhattan Was Manhattan

It's hard for us to imagine the island of Manhattan as anything other than the quintessential urban landscape. But once upon a time, the concrete jungle was home to virgin forest, rolling hills, and wildlife that included cougars and elk.

To help us visualize what Manhattan looked like before the arrival of Europeans, Eric Sanderson of the Bronx Zoo's Wildlife Conservation Society has made a virtual reconstruction of Manhattan circa 1609, the year it was "discovered" by Henry Hudson.

The Big Apple, circa 1609

Called the Mannahatta Project (Mannahatta being the island's original Native American name, meaning "land of many hills"), Sanderson's reconstruction is based on historical data from the 17th century onward. Nearly 50 scientists from a host of disciplines participated in the virtual reconstruction of the pre-European landscape.

Why do projects like Mannahatta matter, other than to provide us with historical eye candy? Sanderson says that they illustrate the enormous impact that humans have had on the landscape over time, and underscore our role as environmental stewards. "To get from 1609 to 2005, it took 25 generations of people making decisions about what kind of landscape and what kind of world they live in. The question is what is Manhattan going to look like 200 years from now? Is it going to be taller and taller and taller buildings? Is the whole world going to be taller and taller and taller buildings? It's a choice that we make today…and our kids will make that choice…and people 200 years, 400 years from now inherit the consequences."

A brief video explaining the project is available in Real and QuickTime formats.

Sources: ScienCentral, Future Feeder