Manhattan wasn't always a concrete jungle. A newly updated project from the Wildlife Conservation Society lets you explore what New York City might have looked like centuries ago—back when it resembled an actual jungle (or at least forest) that was home to wildlife like deer, bears, and bobcats. The Welikia Project, an ecological map of the boroughs from 1609 to present, is named after the native Lenape people's word for “my good home.”
A satellite map of the city is divided into neighborhood blocks that, when clicked, pop up to reveal the ecology of that area. Based on a decade of research by the Wildlife Conservation Society, the blocks reveal the wildlife species, human populations, and landscape that likely covered that area in 1609, along with the probability that those species lived there (since it’s hard to say for sure which blocks a specific species of squirrel roamed 400 years ago). While the data is most comprehensive for Manhattan, historic reconstructions of other boroughs are currently underway—and the society is taking contributions to fund the research.
Looking at the map also provides a stunning timeline of New York City’s landfill expansion. The shape of the island in 1609 was pretty different compared to what it looks like today. Governor’s Island was much smaller, and Battery Park City didn’t exist. Brooklyn and New Jersey’s shores have crept out into the Hudson over the centuries, too.
All screenshots via the Welikia Project