Time Landscape

Time Landscape

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

Landscape artist Alan Sonfist (1946- ) created Time Landscape as a living monument to the forest that once blanketed Manhattan Island. He proposed the project in 1965. After extensive research on New York’s botany, geology, and history Sonfist and local community members used a palette of native trees, shrubs, wild grasses, flowers, plants, rocks, and earth to plant the 25' x 40' rectangular plot at the northeast corner of La Guardia Place and West Houston Street in 1978. The result of their efforts is a slowly developing forest that represents the Manhattan landscape inhabited by Native Americans and encountered by Dutch settlers in the early 17th century.

The surrounding neighborhood, now known as Greenwich Village, was once a marshland dotted with sandy hills that the Canarsie Indians called the Sapokanican and that the Dutch called the Zantberg. The trout-filled Minetta Brook ran to the west and made the area a favorite spot for fishing and duck hunting. Over the course of three-and-a-half centuries, agricultural, residential, commercial, institutional, and industrial development replaced the natural marshland with an urban landscape. While numerous manmade features (such as buildings and streets) preserve the history of 18th-, 19th-, and 20th-century Greenwich Village, Time Landscape serves as a natural landmark of the 17th and prior centuries. This forested plot invites city-dwellers--including insects, birds, people, and other animals--to experience a bygone Manhattan.

When it was first planted, Time Landscape portrayed the three stages of forest growth from grasses to saplings to grown trees. The southern part of the plot represented the youngest stage and now has birch trees and beaked hazelnut shrubs, with a layer of wildflowers beneath. The center features a small grove of beech trees (grown from saplings transplanted from Sonfist’s favorite childhood park in the Bronx) and a woodland with red cedar, black cherry, and witch hazel above groundcover of mugwort, Virginia creeper, aster, pokeweed, and milkweed. The northern area is a mature woodland dominated by oaks, with scattered white ash and American elm trees. Among the numerous other species in this miniforest are oak, sassafras, sweetgum, and tulip trees, arrowwood and dogwood shrubs, bindweed and catbrier vines, and violets.

Time Landscape is on city-owned land, assigned to Transportation. It is maintained by Parks under Greenstreets, a program inaugurated in 1986 and reintroduced in 1994 to convert paved street properties, like triangles and malls, into green lawns. Funded through Parks & Recreation’s capital budget, Greenstreets plants trees and shrubs in the city’s barren street spaces. The assistance of volunteers keeps these areas clean and their plants healthy.

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