NEW YORK (AP) — It is known as New York City's greenest borough — and also as its forgotten borough. But beyond the ferry, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and maybe the Fresh Kills landfill, few people outside Staten Island know of its rich history as a strategic site in New York Harbor, a farming center, a recreational haven and a suburban retreat.
A new exhibition aims to rectify that. "From Farm to City: Staten Island 1661-2012" opened at the Museum of the City of New York on Thursday and runs through Jan. 21.
"There are a lot of surprises about Staten Island for people who don't know Staten Island very well, and for Staten Islanders as well," said chief curator and deputy director Sarah Henry.
The exhibition looks at the land uses that shaped the 59-square-mile island once known as Richmond County over a 350-year period: farming, recreation, suburban and urban mixed-use development.
"We chose case studies for each of the typologies, going through the island in space and time," said Liz McEnaney, the exhibition's guest curator.
Through archival and contemporary maps, photographs and objects, the show highlights the debates that were central throughout Staten Island's history. The exhibition tells visitors of the challenge facing residents "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."
Among the highlights are maps from the 18th through the 20th centuries that are geo-rectified so they lay properly on contemporary maps.
"You can zoom in very, very far in, you can go to block level so you can pick any part of Staten Island and watch it change over time," said Henry.
Visitors will learn that despite its rocky and marshy landscape, half of Staten Island was devoted to agriculture by the 1840s because of its location on the harbor, which provided farmers easy access to Manhattan's growing markets. Today, only three farms remain.
Manhattanites in turn came to Staten Island to hunt foxes, play at cricket and tennis clubs and visit its beachfront resorts. The wealthy, including Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, build elegant mansions there.
Staten Island is the only borough without a subway line, and the issue of transportation runs throughout the exhibition, which chronicles unrealized proposals over the years to connect Staten Island by subway or tunnel to the rest of the city.
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