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Staten Island Exhibit

This is a panorama of the Harbor of New York, Staten Island and the Narrows, circa 1854. Nagel & Weingartner, printmakers. Courtesy the Library of Congress.

Staten Island is something of an enigma to many, but a new exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York through Jan. 21, 2013 looks at the land uses that have shaped the island. The exhibition, simply called "From Farm to City: Staten Island 1661-2012," displays archival and contemporary maps, photographs and objects that relate the challenges of the island "to strike a balance between natural and urban landscapes, between density and open space, between development and preservation, between providing infrastructure and protecting its distinctive landscape and sense of place."

A companion website provides visitors with a collection of historic Staten Island maps, including visions that were proposed but never built. You can select various map views, overlay them, if desired, and zoom in or fade out for different perspectives.

Despite its rocky and marshy landscape, half of Staten Island was devoted to agriculture by the 1840s. Its proximity to the harbor made for easy access to the Manhattan markets. Today, only three farms remain.

Manhattanites used to go to Staten Island to hunt foxes, play cricket and tennis at clubs, or to enjoy the beachfront resorts. The one percenters, like Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, built elegant mansions there.

Staten Island is about the size of Atlanta or Sacramento, but is the only New York City borough without a subway line. The exhibition chronicles unrealized proposals over the years to connect Staten Island by subway or tunnel to Manhattan. Of course from early on ferries connected Staten Island to Manhattan, Brooklyn and New Jersey. The exhibit also shows the transformative effects on the island with the construction of the Verrazano Bridge in 1964.

Staten Island is the greenest of the five boroughs. The former Fresh Kills landfill, the temporary site for the World Trade Center debris, is being transformed into a park three times the size of Central Park.

The last section of the exhibition raises the question, "Who will shape the landscape for the future? And what will it look like?"

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June 26, 2019, 11:56 am PDT

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