Is this what pre-colonial New York looked like?

At the southwest corner of Bleecker Street and LaGuardia Place is a fenced-in patch of green that appears to be part of Silver Towers, two 1960s apartment houses owned by New York University.

But it’s actually an outdoor sculpture of sorts: a landscape recreated by artist Alan Sonfist in 1978 to resemble pristine West Village terrain before the 17th century.

Called Time Landscape, the little plot features birch and beech trees, oaks and elms, and “a woodland with red cedar, black cherry, and witch hazel above groundcover of mugwort, Virginia creeper, aster, pokeweed, and milkweed,” states the Parks Department, of the city-owned land.

Of course, one person’s pre-Colonial woodland is another’s weed garden. One criticism leveled at Time Landscape is that many non-indigenous plants have taken root there.

“This is an open lab, not an enclosed landscape,” Sonfist told The Villager in 2007. “The intention was never to keep out all nonnative species, but rather to see how they come into the space with time.”

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5 Responses to “Is this what pre-colonial New York looked like?”

  1. Weeder Says:

    That “art” project was a disaster.

    What the linked Villager article described was a popular uprising of neighborhood residents against one madman’s pet project.

    From Day One, his project was flawed. There were morning glories there, for example. Morning glories are from Mexico, introduced in the 19th c. to NY. How absurd is that?
    Further, Colonial lower Manhattan was very swampy. Where were the marshland plants? Oh, dear, he forgot to include them!!

    The “artist” didn’t even bother to care for his “art” work for decades. Were there abandoned refrigerators, beer cans and condoms in Colonial NY?
    Worse, the Parks Department was complicit in this disaster, not cleaning the mess in decades.

    I was one of the volunteers at the time who cleaned up that garbage- filled mess. The “artist” was there, pathetically pleading with us to leave his garbage-strewn lot intact. We ignored him as we restored and cleaned it.

    Today, Wilhelmina has added perennials and waters them caringly. She continues to weed and keep it garbage free. Everyone is pleased. Except the “artist”

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    The community gardens next to it are lovely though. When I was a kid, my mother had a plot there. My urban summers were spent digging and weeding and picking tomatoes and other fresh greens.

  3. Deep inside the forest round the corner. | Richly Evocative Says:

    [...] lower Manhattan’s Bleecker Street, in the West Village, there’s a small area of woodland called Time Landscape, an artist’s project designed to recreate the island’s pre-17th century habitat, with [...]

  4. Ann Hadlock Says:

    Who took these photos? I am making a piece for Alan and would like to use them and give credit. Please email me

  5. Ann Hadlock Says:

    Or message me on facebook

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