In my journeys investigating hidden hydrology I stumble upon some interesting side projects that fit nicely as a complement to the idea of buried creeks and lost rivers.  While the main thrust of the project is on these lost rivers, the parallel of the unseen in terms of infrastructure systems led me to the work of photographer Stanley Greenberg.  A short interview as part of Urban Omnibus series Unseen Machine entitled Stanley Greenberg: City as Organism, Only Some of it Visible piqued my interest.

The interview, which is from 2010, discusses some origins of Greenberg getting into photography, as well as the way of looking at the city in new ways.

“I think the city is a huge organism, only some of it visible, and we inhabit it, change it, get changed by it. But there is so much of it that I don’t know. I have mental maps of some neighborhoods; others I still need to explore. There are New Yorkers who never leave their home neighborhood. I try to get out and see as much as I can; walking, on my bicycle, in the subway. And I am always reading about the city, present and past. I suppose I treat it more like a tourist would, always looking for new things and hidden old things. I’ve learned to look for different kinds of subtle landmarks; where are the water tunnel shafts, for example, and how they affect a particular landscape. Or how different eras are marked by manhole covers, lampposts, width of the streets, other urban artifacts. I’m a birder, so I’ve trained myself to look at details. But it’s the same with the city; you always need to be looking. I think it’s important not to take it for granted. That’s what I try to do with my pictures; convince you that it’s worth your time to look at the city, maybe in a way you hadn’t before.”

The concepts of infrastructure also is juxtaposed with discussions of access and security of these system.

Greenberg mentions that he had good access at the time, but that the ideas have changed: “I’m saddened that so many of the places I photographed for the first two books have been removed from the public’s eye. I still think that when there’s more public access, places are safer, for a number of reasons. Neighborhoods, for example, are always safer when more people are outside and active. You can’t possibly police all sensitive locations, and you have to have the public take ownership of its property seriously. I haven’t trespassed (much) to get pictures, since my equipment doesn’t allow for it — and in most of my projects, I haven’t needed to. But I support the idea that sometimes the public’s right to know trumps rules of access.”

There I also learned of the books Invisible New York: The Hidden Infrastructure of the City and Waterworks: A Photographic Journey through New York’s Hidden Water System, both of which seemed to fit the theme nicely.

For you BLDGBLOG fans, Geoff did a profile in 2006 here worth checking out, and a bit more of Greenberg’s work is available on his website, for instance, some shots in the ‘Infrastructure’ category below:

The photographs are, as you can see, typically black and white, and tend to focus on the architectonic, which is perhaps more about the subject than the photography itself.  One interesting photo is from Fresh Kills Landfill in Staten Island, taken in 1993 before the eventual design competition and ongoing multi-phase redevelopment into Fresh Kills Park

Greenberg mentions: “I photographed Fresh Kills landfill for the book (though the pictures were not included) and then again as a commission just before the design competition started. Some places are transformed while using their history in an interesting (and often more subtle) way. Others become simulacra of what was there before, and are much weaker because of it.”

There’s also some interesting recent work on Button Agreement (a project that includes walks of Manhattan, water tunnels in NYC, and explorations of water and cities) which incorporates some earlier work on Water Log, which looks at “Water infrastructure: water supply, aqueducts, dams and dam removals, canals, locks, and other related structures and sites”

Again, the content is diverse, but includes some color photography, and delves a bit into .  The photo below is from work on the “Lake Superior, Part 1″ and is captioned: “Storm Sewer (and trout stream, Duluth, Minnesota” connecting squarely to hidden hydrology.

The more subtle, comes in the form of walks (with some simple hand-sketched route maps included) following infrastructure systems, such as “City Water Tunnel No. 3 Ventilation Towers”, which has multiple shots of towers woven through the city, highlighting the subterranean path by pointing out features that would probably go unnoticed by the average urban dweller.

And closer to my neck of the woods, the photographs of the Elwha Dam removal on the Olympic Peninsula, “Elwha River, 2010-2014″ are great, showing some evolving imagery of areas as the dams were decommissioned. 

Lots more exploration here, but the concept of hidden hydrology has orbits that transect the infrastructural is embodied in Greenberg’s photography.  By looking deeper at cities and the subsurface elements, we can provide a beautiful connection (often even just the mundane becoming visible) to these lost, buried, hidden, yet still vital systems.

The idea of using art to express historical stream routes is a powerful and simple method for connecting people with hidden hydrology.  There are many such precedents, but a recent version I thought I’d mentioned comes from environmental artist Stacy Levy, as part of a workshop at Hunter College sponsored by NYC H20.  I noticed this first on the site untapped cities, and it was covered in the New York Times the following day.

Levy took folks on a tour with some bonus artistic endeavors: “On Friday afternoon, using blue chalk paint, Stacy Levy plans to palpate a few sidewalks on the Upper East Side of Manhattan to visualize the path of a stream, now out of sight, that has been running since ancient times.”   She used the 1865 Viele map of Manhattan, a much documented source of hidden streams in New York, as inspiration of the flows of the walk.  A snip of one of the portions of the map, and a closeup of the 1865 map (which are probably somewhat close in content but somewhat stylistically different).

1874 Viele Map

As the NY Times mentioned, “Searching for the city’s vanished waterways has become a form of specialized detective work, much of which begins with the Viele Map.”   From untapped cities: “Water is one of our favorite substances, yet we know very little about its ways,” says artist Stacy Levy. She explores hidden patterns of hydrology, drainage and microscopic life forms, from tiny microorganisms to large watersheds, using art to reveal the natural processes. This event will explore Levy’s collaborations with urban nature that meld art, engineering and ecology.”

Excerpt of 1865 Viele Map – showing location of tour

There’s also a bit of history from long-time buried creek explorer (both on the surface and as a drainer down in the pipes) Steve Duncan, who has documented this at his expansive Watercourses blog.  He is quoted in the NY Times: “The stream being traced made its way along the east side of Manhattan, with some of it captured in a pond in the southeast corner of Central Park, and other branches eventually flowing into the East River at 47th Street. Historical texts show that a “kissing bridge” crossed it around 50th Street, and the name of the waterway appears to have been De Voor’s Mill Stream”

A great follow-up about the tour was a post “Mystery of the E. 64th Street Puddle” on the ThisEastSide site, which captures a bit of the day of framed in the form of a mysterious perennial puddle.  As mentioned in the article:

“A woman who was walking by, who works on the block, alerted us to the persistent nature of the puddle,” Matt Malina, founder of NYC H2O, told us. “I also overheard a mother say to her daughter as they walked by, ‘That’s why this is the mosquito block!’”

The mystery was solved, again quoting ThisEastSide“The building of Manhattan paved over many primeval brooks and streams.  But some, like the De Voor Mills Stream under 64th Street, just want to be free. The puddle is a spring that feeds the stream. During heavy rains, it fills nearby basements with water.  (A superintendent at one of the nearby buildings told Malina that he keeps a sump pump in the basement for such occasions.)”

Part of Levy’s tour, where “…she recently took a group of volunteers to the site of the puddles (actually, there are two) and supervised their drawing of swirls representing the turbulent water under the sidewalks.”  Seen below, tour goers and passersby joined in the fun, marking swirly water flow patterns on the old path of the buried stream.  In typical urban fashion, the police were called, “concerned that the group was defacing the sidewalk.  Their worries were dispelled upon learning that the medium was chalk.  As it happened, the weekend rains washed away most of the drawings.”  As author Froma Harrop concludes, “So the E. 64th Street puddle is actually a spring feeding the De Voor Mills Stream.  Henceforth, let’s call the puddle a “spring.”  A lot more elegant, don’t you think?”

The chalk paint is an interesting idea to engage without permanently marking – perhaps just to avoid getting the police called on you.  The recent work in chalk is a more ephemeral version of Levy’s 2004 work Streamlines, which used permanent paint, glass beans, stone and bronze to mark 400 feet of waterway along paths at the North Carolina Zoological Park, Greensboro, NC

From her site:

“The hydrological patterns of the nearby stream were enlarged and painted onto the meandering path with road striping paint. Patterns of vortices were painted where the path curved or went past a manhole cover. Parallel lines of laminar flow depicted the straight portions of the path. These amazing patterns are invisible to the eye, but present in all flowing streams.”

From Levy’s website, it looks like there are plenty more inspirations for us to tap into, including one of her projects I’ve used countless times as a precedent for project, the fantastic Ridge and Valley at the Penn State Arboretum, with a stunning etched bluestone plaza with “a 924 sq. ft. map shaped like the Spring Creek watershed” fed by rainwater.

Will spend some more time here, the well is deep.

If you haven’t had a chance to check out the installation ‘Calling Thunder: Unsung NYC’ it’s a fantastic example of using digital storytelling methods that connect with hidden hydrology.  The project extends the work of the Welikia Project. which provides ecological history of New York along with some great visualizations of pre-development in the form of maps and 3D graphics.   A little background comes from the article in the NY Times from April 25th, ‘The Sounds of ‘Mannahatta’ in Your Ear’:

““Calling Thunder,” is an aural bridge across four centuries. It builds on Dr. Sanderson’s stunning work, with Markley Boyer, in creating visualizations of the rolling landscape of 1609 Manhattan — known by the Lenape people as Mannahatta, “the island of many hills” — that are twinned with photographs of the same points in the modern city. We see hills and streams at places now occupied by skyscrapers and subway tunnels; a red maple swamp where an H&M store stands in Times Square.

Drawing on the work on Mannahatta, the immersive video and 360 video and soon VR animate the lovely maps that populated the original books.  As one moves through the pre-1600s aerial imagery, it transitions to the modern cityscape,  The visuals showcase the heart of the book “…published in 2009, and its classic, bookly virtues — visual beauty, wit and imagination, all underwritten by deep scholarship — persuasively deliver its most astounding revelation: Manhattan in the 17th century had more ecological communities per acre than Yellowstone, more than most rain forests or coral reefs.”

The soundscapes are the best part, a collaboration between “… Bill McQuay, a former sound engineer with NPR who is now an audio producer with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and David Al-Ibrahim, an interactive storyteller and graduate student at the School of Visual Arts.”   Using sounds from the Macaulay Library at Cornell, the soundscapes piece together species, for instance, in recreating the Collect Pond, the species of American Crow, Marsh Meadow Katydid, Bullfrog, American Bittern, Baltimore Oriole, and Black-capped Chickadee are culled from the site specific ecologies of Welikia and the range of possible species present, which is a fascinating way to experience the site.  A snapshot of the area near the Collect Pond Park shows a wide range of species to drawn sounds from,

 

I was a bit disappointed with the visuals that accompanied the soundscapes, simple, abstract, placeless sketches that distracted, more than accentuated the experience.  Looking around, one wished the simple site-specific scenes were rendered in the same graphic style as the larger renderings, only more animated scenes with residual movement, wind, rustling leaves, and environmental cues that evoke the historical places, perhaps transitioning between new and old.

Maybe a fitting next stage for the project, a simple immersive VR experience could be done without a lot of work, but the sketches aren’t going to cut it.  The goal of capturing a vision of what was and what is, with a measure of interactivity that heightened awareness of the habitat sounds would be attainable, as seen through the myriad .  I found that closing your eyes and immersing in the sounds was the best way to experience this.  The dilemma is hinted at in the article: “At first, Mr. Al-Ibrahim said, he considered presenting only the sound from each of the sites. “It turns out people don’t respond well when put in pitch blackness with a headset on,” he said. By offering readers and listeners the choice of technologies, the project sidesteps the trap of endorsing one storytelling technique to the detriment of the actual message.”


The method of disseminating historical ecology, and pair the experience with soundscapes showcases.  As a quote from Sanderson mentions, which is clear from the work on Welikia and Mannahatta, the abundance of species. For a city known as one of the most dense and urban, the previous natural resource is somewhat surprising.  This is the beauty of connecting the past and the present.

As mentioned, “The Unsung website offers various ways to take in the weave of history, research and informed speculation in “Calling Thunder,” each with its own rewards: as a simple audio recording, 360-degree video, or, coming soon, virtual reality.”  I can’t wait to see the next installment and appreciate the inspiration of full-sensory experiences.

Perhaps the final of the Origin Stories, the Mannahatta Project first came to my attention in around 2008, and expanded via a 2007 article in the New Yorker entitled The Mannahatta Project: What did New York Look Like Before We Arrived.  They’ve evolved th from the island of Manhattan to a broader metro area under the banner of The Welikia Project and Sanderson has been immortalized in a great TED Talk as well.  For me this project took me beyond the love of historic maps and connected these maps with ecology of place.  The book Mannahatta, published in 2009 is a great resource on process still today.  Here’s my original post from Landscape+Urbanism from May, 2008.

Past Forward: Mannahatta   I may have mentioned my love of historic urban maps. If not, then I will plead guilty here, and offer up Strange Maps as a vital modern contribution to our historical heritage, and let slip fact that I’ve read most of the written works of Mark Monmonier. As objects, maps are fascinating artifacts. Even more interesting is using these remnants of history to attempt to visualize and recreate a baseline, whether that be social, ecological, or other. A small past project started to delve into this in Portland – looking at maps of historical and ‘disappeared’ streams to evokes some of the cities hidden hydrology. I’m currently evolving this idea in an essay, so look forward to more on this in the future.

The work of Dr. Eric Sanderson and the Mannahatta Project takes this concept to a whole new level. The introduction to this project for me came while reading ‘The World Without Us’ towards the end of 2007. My reactions to the schizophrenic nature of the book notwithstanding, I was totally drawn into the chapter on Mannahatta, in method and vision. Today, Treehugger profiled this project, featuring a talk by Sanderson and a range of visuals to provide a vision for what is now New York City – of over 400 years ago. The study begins with analysis of historical maps:

071001_paumgarten02_p646:: 1782 British Headquarters Map Detail – image via the New Yorker

071001_paumgarten03_p646:: 1819 Farm Maps – image via the New Yorker

Mannahatta, which is derived from the indigenous Lenni Lenape tribal name for the land, seemed historically to burst with diversity. As Treehugger mentions in the lecture, Sanderson equated the beauty of Mannahatta as equal or greater than that of Yellowstone or Yosemite, and that it: “…was more biologically diverse than either of those two areas, and with its hardwood forests, freshwater, and estuarine environments, Mannahatta’s 54 different ecological communities (that is, interacting species living in the same place, bound together by a network of influences) and lush greenery would have dazzled any nature lover.”

071001_paumgarten05_p646:: Mannahatta, circa 1609 (with current landform outline) – image via the New Yorker

071001_paumgarten08_p646:: Collect Pond (now Foley Square) – image via the New Yorker

Another resource is an audio interview with Sanderson on the Wildlife Conservation Society site, as well as some fact sheets and link to a fascinating paper authored by Sanderson and Marianne Brown entitled ‘Mannahatta: An Ecological First Look at the Manhattan Landscape Prior to Henry Hudson’.

071001_paumgarten09_p646:: Lower Manhattan – image via the New Yorker

Sanderson took the early mapping, along with a computer program named ‘Muir webs’ to piece together the hidden puzzle of the geology, topography, hydrology and ecology of early 1600’s Manhattan. Quoted via Treehugger:

“Sanderson is using his program to map what would have existed on each city block in Mannahatta 400 years ago. The program works through a process of matching animals to their habitats and vice-versa. By knowing that a certain animal species existed in an area of Manhattan and knowing what that animal ate, Sanderson can predict through the Muir webs program what plants or soils would have been there as well, or conversely can use knowledge of plants and soils to discover what animals would have found a habitat in any specific area.”

One issue with the visuals is a lack of immediate context – kind of a vagueness of ‘nature shot’s without seeing the ‘before and after’ shots of landscape and city together. Plans are in the works to provide the ability to juxtapose old and new maps, and the entire endeavor will be well documented in time for the 400 year anniversary of Hudson’s voyage to the area in 2009. Here’s an example of this:

071001_paumgarten11_p646:: Mannahatta + Manhattan (Times Square then and now) – image via the New Yorker

As I mentioned, it’s interesting to see the major changes in our urbanism – as well as to see the fact that the inherent nature of place is difficult if not impossible to erase. Coming full circle, back to a bit later date in history – is the map that I first encountered – the Survey Map of 1852 shows an early pioneer Portland in it’s fledgling, even pre-Stumptown days. Focussing on waterways and topography, it’s interesting to see what was hidden, yet how much still remains of this hydrology.

1852map
:: Survey Map of Portland (1852) – image via Portland BES

From a pure restoration point-of-view – there’s little hope in recreated Mannahatta (or even less dense more verdant Pioneer Portland for that matter). Our challenge is to learn from these studies – what was there, what was the predevelopment baseline for water, habitat, and tree cover, then aim to recreate these functions. This can be physically (through selected ecological restoration), functionally (through green roofs, nature parks, habitat gardens, streettree canopy, green streets), and metaphorically (through art, interpretation, poetry and beauty).

This is our way of taking the past, learning from it, and moving forward a little more wise than when we began.

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