A Long History of a Short Block:
Four Centuries of Development Surprises on a Single Stretch of a New York City Street is a paper that studies the land use of a ~500 feet long city block in Manhattan from the 1600s to today. While 400 years is a long time it's still fascinating to see how this small piece of land had such a diverse life: at first it was a forest, then a farm, then a wealthy residential area, then a red-light district, then a manufacturing hub, then a rundown residential area, then a home to artists and art galleries, and then finally a wealthy residential and luxury shopping district.
It's also an illustration of how young one of America's largest and oldest cities is – in 1644 it was comprised of merely 450 people.
No one back in the 17th century predicted this, of course:
the Dutch at one point addressed the question of whether to retain Suriname or New Amsterdam, and chose the more promising sugar-producing slave plantations of Suriname.
Surprise 1: Dutch expect New York to be less valuable than Suriname.
The Dutch did not anticipate the extent to which New York would later prosper through triangular trade with Caribbean sugar plantations and Britain. As one historian put it, “New York now lived by feeding the slaves who made the sugar that fed the workers who made the clothes and other finished wares that New Yorkers didn’t make for themselves.”