Eric Sanderson's Mannahatta, a book, exhibition, and upcoming competition is sure to be a talked-about project this year, as it visualizes the island of Manhattan 400 years ago, when Henry Hudson arrived, and when the island was inhabited by natives. Striking and subtle juxtapositions show the differences between the island then and now.
[Mannahatta Project's view of Mannahatta ca. 1609 overlaid with today's footprint of Manhattan | image source]
Sanderson's ambitious, decade-in-the-making undertaking reminds me of a small plot of land in Greenwhich Village that recreates Manhattan's forest from 400 years ago. Alan Sonfist proposed Time Landscape of New York for the northeast corner of LaGuardia Place and Houston Street in 1965. It is located on the same block as I.M. Pei's University Village.
[Artist's statement | image source]
[Artist's plan and elevation | image source]
Construction started in 1978, during the Koch administration, though naturally the site has slowly evolved since then. The 1,000 sf (93 sm) plot is divided into three sections reflecting the three stages of forest growth (grasses-saplings-trees) with wildflowers throughout. The accessible park is one of the city's Greenstreets, city-owned land devoted to transportation but converted into green space. Maintenance is aided by volunteers.
[Street and aerial view today | image source]
As a piece of landscape art, the small park raises obvious questions about our relationship to the city and its nature. The natural in this sense has been obliterated, so even Sonfist's intervention is what can be called second-growth forest, obviously too small to carry the benefits of larger forests, though certain species (bugs, birds, people) do enjoy the diversity and density of vegetation. It's easy to miss this patch of green while walking either LaGuardia or Houston, but given the layered meanings in the park it deserves a second look and a slight detour inside the fenced-off landscape.