Instructor: Dr. Eric W. Sanderson
The Mannahatta Project changed how New Yorkers see their city, literally and figuratively, juxtaposing the urban, culturally diverse landscape of Manhattan to the forested, ecologically diverse island of Mannahatta, as it existed just prior to European discovery 400 years ago [see Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City (Abrams, 2009), and welikia.org.] In this capstone seminar, advanced Environmental Studies students will work with Dr. Eric Sanderson of the Wildlife Conservation Society, to launch Mannahatta beyond the boundaries of Manhattan and encompass the rest of New York City: from the beaches of Brooklyn to the river valleys of the Bronx, from the seascape of Queens to the forested uplands of Staten Island. Students will learn how to synthesize materials across a broad sweep of disciplines (including urban planning, geomorphology, landscape ecology, archaeology and conservation biology) within a geographically uniform, computational framework, based on geographic information system (GIS) analysis of historical and modern documents. These technical geographic operations will be placed in context by practical and theoretical considerations of how the past shapes the present, and how the choices we make about the environment, considered wholistically, create the future for people as part of nature in New York City.
Specifically this capstone will focus on generating visions of ecological futures for New York City using the Visionmaker.nyc platform (beta) developed by the Welikia Project at the Wildlife Conservation Society. Visionmaker.nyc is a tool to enable anyone, from kids to policymakers, to develop and share visions of the city in the future. Visionmaker.nyc rapidly and realistically calculates performance metrics for visions, currently oriented around measures of the carbon cycle, water cycle, biodiversity, population and economic cost. Future metrics may include public health and social justice.
Building on the work of past NYU capstones, students will work with the instructor to (1) understand and validate the Visionmaker environmental performance models and underlying datasets; (2) compile a list of social and environmental goals proposed by New York City government and private sector actors; and (3) develop visions based on student concepts and proposed projects and policies that address the goals. From these activities, students can be expect to gain an introduction to issues at the boundary of urban planning, environmental modelling, and democratization of the creating a better performing and more inclusive habitat for human beings in New York City.
This capstone is a problem-based, project-oriented, interdisciplinary required course for senior Environmental Studies majors. Students work collaboratively to characterize a current environmental problem, analyze possible solutions and publicly present the results. This course isn’t like a real project in environmental studies; this capstone is a real project in environmental studies.
The aim of the capstone is to improve students’ ability to synthesize and integrate material from a range of disciplines; to deploy diverse methodologies and vocabularies in a problemsolving context; to bring theoretical knowledge and skills to bear on practical problems; to work in teams with other students; and to communicate results to a variety of audiences. Students are tasked with improving our relationship with the environment in meaningful and measurable ways.
Watch this capstone presentation on YouTube.