What if NYC turns into Pandora (The world of Avatar)?

Lab Reports, Maps, Visualization


The first time I set foot in New York City, along with Alicia Keys singing in my head ‘Concrete jungle where dreams are made of’ I was overwhelmed by the scale of NYC. The massive, towering buildings that made everything else look so insignificant, the people, the trees, trains, cars. It was so unreal. But soon that thought provoked how much us, the people have altered our Earth’s landscape that we accepted as reality. Every ecosystem is a decentralised system that should operate in harmony with nature. But walking down the streets of the ‘concrete jungles’ we created, I questioned if we really are co-existing with the dynamics of nature or are we making reversible changes to our Planet. Every element of earth, living or otherwise, plays its part in maintaining this harmony. It has its way of consuming one energy and offering another in return. Have you ever wondered that these gigantic concrete structures which we call home only adds burden to the planet but offers nothing in return. Also known as Urbanization- a process where these alien additions are sprawling over the Earth’s surface making permanent alteration to the planet. To bring attention and awareness of how human intervention is affecting mother nature. I wanted to present a fantasy world. A Thanos snap where all the man-made structures (buildings) of NYC are turned into trees and the trees into buildings. Will that be considered co-existing? 

Image from Ironman.fandom.com


In order to visualise this humanity’s footprint, 3 datasets: Building Footprints Dataset (Shapefile of footprint outlines and height of buildings in New York City)and 2015 Street Tree Census – Tree Data (Street tree data from the TreesCount! 2015 Street Tree Census, from NYC Open Data. Two main software were used, one main visualization tool: ArcGis, and one spreadsheet software MS Excel. The datasets from NYC Open Data are exported as csv, cleaned in Excel, and uploaded as a feature layer mapped on the topographic base map of New York City using ArcGis.


The main focus of this report is to help visualize the mass impact of the Urban footprint on Earth. What places better to showcase the impacts of human intervention than our very own Concrete Jungle aka New York City. That is why we started the visualization in ArcGis using NYC topographic map as Basemap with cylindrical projection, particularly zoomed into the Financial District as it poses as the perfect example of the issue at hand.

To trigger the normalization of its existence, we will be creating two maps. One, which captures the existing landscape of buildings and Trees in the selected area in terms of spatial coverage, scale, and density, and Two, presenting a fantasy landscape using the same parameters interchangeably.

The main goal of Map 1 is to help readers understand the significance of man-made changes in the selected area and to capture that we are using building footprints as our medium (as it causes the most impact). Although the NYC BaseMap help depicts the spatial Coverage of these buildings, in order to truly visualize the scale we need more data like height which is obtained from the Building Footprint Dataset downloaded from NYC Open Data. Now both Building footprints, with scale and street trees (nature) planted in that area are turned into feature layers and applied to the BaseMap. To further enhance the scale and density, custom symbolization is used as part of the visualization. This also helps users to associate with each element (Building and trees) in both maps.

NYC Buildings Orange Square basic shapes are used to depict the scale of the buildings.

NYC Trees – Green Circle basic shapes are used to mimic the canopy of the trees.

 custom symbolization

Next is Map 2 – A Utopia where the man-made structures (buildings) of NYC are turned into trees and the trees into buildings. To achieve that we used symbolization alternatively to the same dataset. That is, applied NYC Trees symbolization to the Building dataset and NYC Building symbolization to the Trees dataset. The scale of the buildings = the scale of the trees. We used height as a parameter, i.e taller the building – taller the tree and bigger the canopy.

Data Visualization –  Interpretation

Map 1– Existing landscape of Building and Trees – New York City, New York.
The current map clearly shows how we lost large portions of our natural world to urbanisation. The visualisation depicts that even though mankind has tried to install trees and preserve bits of nature, their presence and effect seems insignificant amidst the vastness of the concrete jungle humans created. The map also portrays the normalisation of its existence – the sad truth of how the current urban landscape is perceived as our world even though it has been changed beyond recognition of what it once was.

Map 1 – Existing landscape of Building and Trees -New York City, New York – Before Snap

Map 2–  Utopia, where buildings are turned into trees – New York City, New York.
The second map poses like a fantasy, a Multiverse, or an aerial shot of Pandora (the world of movie avatar) and that is proof that human intervention has been significant and major downsizing of humanity’s footprint is the need of the hour to stabilize our planet earth. On the other hand, the map conveys a beautiful message that as humans we have the power to create. In order to truly coexist with nature, our creations should mimic nature which can exist by consuming one energy but should offer another to maintain nature’s true harmony. Architects creating greener structures in a literal way is the future.

Map 2 –  Utopia, where buildings are turned into trees – New York City, New York – After Snap

Click here to open visualizations in ArcGis.


In an overview, we triggered the question ‘If we really are co-existing with nature?’. The answer is NO, at least in the current day but the world should be and is headed in that direction. By making conscious choices when designing & building our physical world, we can help to rewild and restore the natural world and create a wonderful future for ourselves and the earth. The more we help nature to recover, the more it will harmonize and enhance our well-being.

The future direction of this experiment will be understanding the effect of adopting Map 2 (Utopia) onto the real world and its impact on local surface temperatures, urban heat, and the larger ecosystem.