I never had any love for history until I visited New York. The city lends itself to urban exploration, watching the neighbourhoods and architecture of the city morph from block to block.
The Downtown Alliance published this photo on Twitter earlier, and it’s the sort of thing I can look at for hours – it’s a map of Manhattan as it was in the early 17th Century before it was settled, with the current outline and streets superimposed on top:
It isn’t just Battery Park City (at the top of the image) that was built on top of landfill – several hundred acres of land were added all the way around Manhattan as debris from foundations was dumped onto the shorelines.
If you’ve stood in Battery Park and looked back at the city, you’ll notice the skyscrapers of Manhattan come to an abrupt halt. That’s because they’re built on the original island in place of previous buildings, and the park was created from scratch in the 19th century.
Aside from forests, Manhattan also used to be covered in marshland and rivers. They’ve all been built over (aside from the forests at the Northern tip of Manhattan in Inwood), but you can still see the history. In the centre of the map, I noticed a stream meeting the original shoreline of the East River, and that just upstream there’s a street that appears to follow its course. A quick check of Google Maps reveals it to be Maiden Lane – immediately the name stands out because you don’t find many ‘lanes’ in Manhattan. The fact that it cuts across other streets also suggests it follows the path of an ancient river. And in fact, it did.
Of course, history’s everywhere you look, but New York gets me every time.
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