Time Lapse Cartography

Lower Manhattan's History, Culture, and Future Converge in a Visionary New Map

CultureNow president Abby Suckle presents the organization's new mash-up map of Lower Manhattan's history to Community Board 1 in September.CultureNow president Abby Suckle presents the organization's new mash-up map of Lower Manhattan's history to Community Board 1 in September.

“This is about how you tell the story of a neighborhood,” reflects, Abby Suckle, president of CultureNOW. “And Lower Manhattan is all about history.” This is how Ms. Suckle describes the vision behind an extraordinary new local atlas, the “Lower Manhattan: Then and NOW” map.” Ms. Suckle, an architect whose contribution to the Downtown streetscape include work on the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Battery Park City, recalls, “so I took a group of students around and we did a lot of research last summer.” This included not only walking the streets of Lower Manhattan, but also prowling through archives that contained a series of historic views, plans, and layouts of the square mile below what is now Chambers Street. They began with charts of “Mana-hatta” (the Lenape Native American name for this, “Island of Many Hills”), and proceeded through records of the time when Wall Street was a wall, Broad Street was a canal, and the shorelines were at what are now Pearl and Greenwich Streets. “Then we took all these maps,” says Ms. Suckle, “put them together, and made a mash-up.”

CultureNow president Abby Suckle presents the organization's new mash-up map of Lower Manhattan's history to Community Board 1 in September.

CultureNow president Abby Suckle presents the organization’s new mash-up map of Lower Manhattan’s history to Community Board 1 in September.

The result is an image that compresses four centuries of growth, war, political upheaval, redemptive triumph and (above all) ceaseless transformation, into two images, printed on the opposite sides of a single sheet of paper: one showing the 1500s through the early 1990s, with the obverse illustrating the 20th and 21st centuries. This richly layered tapestry also continues the narrative thread from the past, through the present, and into the future: It depicts Downtown layered not only with the 2012 storm surge from Hurricane Sandy, but also the areas that will be swamped by the 31 inches of sea level rise that the federal government now expects to come no later than 2050.

The contemporary side of the map illustrates Lower Manhattan in the 20th and 21st centuries, will a sobering view of the not-too-distant future, when a projected sea-level rise of almost three feet will put large areas of the community underwater.

The contemporary side of the map illustrates Lower Manhattan in the 20th and 21st centuries, will a sobering view of the not-too-distant future, when a projected sea-level rise of almost three feet will put large areas of the community underwater.

CultureNOW is a nonprofit organization formed in 2002 from the New York/New Visions coalition of design professionals who came together to help rebuild Lower Manhattan in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The organization bills itself as, “a museum without walls” that celebrates Downtown’s cultural environment cultural tourism and arts education. One means of achieving this mission is creating original maps that celebrate local art, architecture, and history. Since 2002, CultureNow has created and distributed over 650,000 free maps at civic and cultural institutions throughout New York City.

Copies “Lower Manhattan: Then and Now” can be purchased from CultureNow for $10. Please email info@culturenow.org for more information.

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