The Welikia Project

SUMMARY: Cities want to be sustainable but by and large don’t know how. We seek to map the original, historic ecological landscape of New York City, the place where 8 million people live, and provide the best model of sustainability we can think of: ecosystems in nature.

PROBLEM SPACE: Urbanization is the most important land use trend of the world today, with urban populations larger today than the entire world population of a century ago. We need cities that function as effectively as ecosystems while simultaneously providing terrific habitat for people. We need to see nature in cities.

SOLUTION: Our project is rooted in an earlier, thorough reconstruction of the ecology of Manhattan at the moment of European discovery on September 12, 1609. After a decade of research (1999 – 2009), The Mannahatta Project culminated with a best-selling book, an acclaimed museum exhibition, widely adopted education curricula, and a new meme for urban life: the simple notion that where there is now a sidewalk or a skyscraper there was once forest or a wet meadow frames the city in ecological terms and connects even the most hard-bitten urbanite to an idea green, fertile, and lasting. In short, a sustainable, ecological model of place tailored to the particular geography, climate, and history of Manhattan.

Of course the ecological sustainability of Manhattan has changed somewhat over the last 400 years and continues to change as we re-imagine the city in a new light. Through the Welikia Project we want to take this dreaming to the rest of New York City and all of its people, in their diversity of culture, wealth, poverty, education, language, and viewpoint in the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island. Eight million people live in New York and 35 million people (1 in 10 Americans) live in the New York City region. Through them run economic, social, and cultural networks which span the globe and carry the idea of Welikia (which means “my good home” in the original Lenape language of New York) around the world.

The principle science underlying our effort is landscape ecology, the appreciation of how the ecosystem mosaic provides habitat for plants and animals, including for people; however, we also draw heavily on history, geography, literature, and computer science to create comprehensive digital maps of the original ecosystems of a city, developing a model that can be extended to cities all over the world.