BOOK BITS -
The World Without Us - Part 2
By Tracy W.
In the movie The Day After Tomorrow Manhattan subway tunnels get flooded by unremitting rain over a period of just a few days. Technology that normally pumps excess water is simply overwhelmed. In the movie things go from bad to worse, with abrupt climate change returning the city to the Ice Age.
Alan Weisman takes on the subject of water flow in Manhattan from a different perspective. His book The World Without Us speculates on what would happen to cities without people.
For the sake of argument, let's pretend that humans have simply vanished. Maybe a plague, maybe something else. What happens to Manhattan? It would quickly revert to its ancient ecology, while man-made structures would erode and crumble.
The first act of natural reclamation of the island would be the reflooding of large parts of the city that used to be lakes and streams.
Ancient Manhattan had more than 40 streams running through it, plus lakes and marshes. It was a landscape efficiently designed by nature to allow water management according to seasonal rain variations.
When Europeans settled there, they tried to force nature to accept the building of a city that would eventually become a metropolis. To start with, lakes, marshes and streams were filled in. All water went underground.
But nature can't ever be defeated. Man's dominance is tenuous and temporary at best. Recurrent subway tunnel floods are challenging reminders. Not even the most advanced technology can defeat the force of zillions of drops of water. That water wants to return to the surface and the only way to contain it and rechannel it is by using pumps all over underground Manhattan.
Those pumps run on electric power. With no people, there would be no power. In only 30 minutes water would reach the trains. Even with no rain the underground subways would be completely flooded in only 36 hours.
The Mannahatta Project
To get an idea of what the island used to be, Alan Weisman presents landscape ecologist Dr. Eric Sanderson's Mannahatta Project. He has reconstructed in virtual form pre-urban Manhattan.
Gathering all kinds of archival and geological information, including sediment and fossil pollen studies, Dr Sanderson has been able to painstakingly recreate old Manhattan, its waterways, even trees and bushes. With new technology he shows the island as it was first seen by Henry Hudson in 1609.
For more information on Dr. Eric Sanderson and his Mannahatta Project:
Mapping Mannahatta - Slide show
2007 video - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cKNEu_8t65s
2011 video - http://blip.tv/social-science-research-council/eric-sanderson-on-the-mannahatta-project-2195736
2011 - New York before the city - interview and pictures. http://www.ted.com/talks/eric_sanderson_pictures_new_york_before_the_city.html
IN THE NEWS:
New York City in the aftermath of 2012 Hurricane Sandy
Pictures of flooded Manhattan in darkness, rats take over. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2225132/Superstorm-Sandy-2012-New-York-darkness-14ft-flooding--come-rats.html
Pictures of the flood and a technological idea that could protect Manhattan.
Pictures of inside eerie Manhattan subway station months later, still in need of rehabilitation -