Armed with an 18th-century map, a GPS and reams of data, Eric Sanderson has re-plotted the Manhattan of 1609, just in time for New York's quadricentennial.

Why you should listen

Before becoming the center of the Western cultural universe, Manhattan was Mannahatta, "Island of many hills," in the language of 17th-century Native Americans. Using computer modeling, painstaking research and a lot of legwork, Wildlife Conservation Society ecologist Eric Sanderson has re-envisioned, block by block, the ecology of Manhattan as it was when Henry Hudson first sailed into the forested harbor in 1609.

The Mannahatta Project presents the eye-popping fruits of Sanderson's research, from the now-flattened hills of the financial district to the river otters of Harlem. The project's astonishing visualizations are realized by computer-graphics wizard Markley Boyer, and encompasses a book, a website and a 3-D map -- a sort of Google Earth of ancient New York. Plaques around town will commemorate a lost creek or habitat. Far more than a mournful look back at what has been irrevocably paved over, the Mannahatta Project is designed to inspire ecological sustainability for New York and for other cities.

What others say

“The Mannahatta Project aspires to minute verisimilitude, down to the varieties of moss, and will facilitate a kind of naturalists' version of George-Washingtonslept-here ... The idea of all this, of course, is to get us to appreciate the remnants of the natural world, even in this degraded place.” — Nick Paumgarten, The New Yorker

Eric Sanderson’s TED talk

More news and ideas from Eric Sanderson

New York City’s natural history: Eric Sanderson on

October 12, 2009

400 years after Hudson found New York harbor, Eric Sanderson shares how he made a 3D map of Mannahatta’s fascinating pre-city ecology of hills, rivers, wildlife — accurate down to the block — when Times Square was a wetland and you couldn’t get delivery. (Recorded at TEDGlobal, July 2009, Oxford, UK. Duration: 16:09) Twitter URL: […]

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