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).
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.”
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 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.
The first of what I hope are many field trips and investigations is now up on the site in a section called Explorations. This will be the location for these site-specific journeys, and will be augmented with maps, narratives, soundscapes, and images layered to tell the Water Stories of these hidden streams and buried creeks.
For this initial foray, in Seattle, it was immense fun to wander the areas north of Green Lake and discover the history of Licton Springs. As you see from the map below, the historic routes show a stream flowing southwards into Green Lake. The reach of the waterway starts around Licton Springs Park, where it is sees daylight for a stretch, along with some other intermittent segments where it pops up in surprising ways, throughout the neighborhood.
The story of Licton Springs focuses on the significance to Native Duwamish peoples, who celebrated the place and it’s spiritual, reddish, iron-oxide infused waters, and to early settlers, who lived and recreated, bathed in thermal pools, and bottled and drank of the healing mineral waters.
Like many places, the history of how the place evolved and how it was maintained is of interest, but the journey of the now and the experience of a day of exploring the edges, the muddy margins, and the sloppy seeps (lost shoes included) connect the history of place to the experience of today.
Beyond the park, there are a number of other discoveries that paint a story of people and place woved together through the flow of water. Discovery of the story of Pilling’s Pond, a small section carved out of the flow of Licton Springs to provide a sanctuary where Charles Pilling became a world expert duck breeding in the middle of Seattle.
The discoveries also include a unique segment of stream fronting Ashworth Avenue, a single residential block with driveways and fences literally bridging over the final daylit segment of of Licton Springs, showing how each owner shaped, or left feral, their little piece of the wild.
The connection as well with the virtual, with the final connection is made to Green Lake. Now only connected via overflow, the tracery of Licton Springs, imagined perhaps in some abstracted water play forms, swales, and cascades, may still be allow the creek to be evident, if only in our imagination.
The link below expands on this summary, so check it out, go out and explore, and come back with some water stories of your own.
As with most cities, one river or creek seems to dominate the imagination, and Pogue’s Run is that for Indianapolis, with a number of historical ruminations, such as Historic Indianapolis, which showed a etching by Thomas B. Glessing of “Surveyors mapping the new capital in 1820”, and noting that the stream was probably Pogue’s Run.
In the course of finding out about Pogue’s Run, a number of other interesting people and projects emerged from Indianapolis. Below are some summaries
A video connects the music to place, which “follows a humble waterway through urban neighborhoods in Indianapolis. From its source, through the city, into a mysterious three-mile underground tunnel, and finally to the White River, Pogue’s Run represents the ongoing tension between nature and civilization.”
Charting Pogue’s Run
Artist Sean Derry’s work “Charting Pogue’s Run” investigated the creek via an 1831 map, with a thin line of blue paint and cast iron marks woven through.
A bit of description (longer version on his site):
“Charting Pogue’s Run investigates the past and present characteristics of Pogue’s Run as it flows from the Neareastside neighborhood to its confluence with the White River south of downtown. Beginning on E. New York St., along the boundary of the Cottage Home neighborhood, a blue line and small iron markers map the stream’s 1831 path through the city. This addition to the city-scape traces the streams meandering path across 4.5 miles of Indianapolis.
The work, along with Hyatt’s, was covered as part of the free workshops, “Rethink, Reconnect, Reclaim”, which “explores creative approaches for improving Indianapolis”. See a video of the project here:
A surprise was finding the comprehensive Streamlines project, led by environmental artist Mary Miss, a continuation of her legacy of environmental art, in this case “StreamLines is situated on five sites, in diverse communities along tributaries of the White River. Miss’ sculptural elements reveal the natural systems and infrastructure that impact the Indianapolis waterways and encourage exploration of the area.”
Apart from site specific art: “StreamLines is an interactive, place-based project that merges the sciences and the arts to advance the community’s understanding and appreciation of Indianapolis’ waterways. This work is made possible by a grant from the National Science Foundation and is modeled on the City as Living Laboratory/FRAMEWORK. StreamLines features art created for specific sites along six Indianapolis waterways of focus to Reconnecting to Our Waterways (ROW): Five environmental installations by Mary Miss/City as Living Laboratory® (MM/CaLL); A series of dance performances by Butler University Department of Dance; Six musical compositions curated by Michael Kaufmann/The Kinetic Project; A collection of poems penned by Indiana poets selected by Poets House”.
A diagram of the concept of her site specific installations, which include similar themes, as noted, around the concept that ‘Rivers are the Lifelines of our Cities.”
Along with some of the installations themselves, which are place based but tied together thematically. An excerpt from her site: “At each site, the three states of water – ICE, VAPOR, WATER are written on the surface of the mirrors. Words on the ground express the themes of each different location. They are formed of reverse letters, which are legible in the reflection in the mirror above. Site themes address water and its many states in the environment, the importance of water to Indianapolis’ development and history, water infrastructure and the connection to the watershed. At the outer edges of the installations, smaller mirrors (18” in diameter) and small pedestals in groups of two or three present texts, much of it legible only in reflection, such as poetry, scientific and historical facts, riddles, jokes, prompts, and questions. These texts also direct visitors to the app and website for additional information.”
The markers and poetry are located in and around installations, circling back to the formative river, the poem “Pogue’s Lost Horse” by Catherine Bowman connect to the place in other ways, through words, visions, and rhythm.
The dance and musical numbers are available on the site and best captured in video, as well as the Streamlines Vimeo page, which also has interviews and other info. One of my favorite is the ‘Choreographing the Movement of the Waterways’, described here: “This video explores the story behind the dance component of StreamLines. On September 24, 2015, more than 100 members of the Butler Ballet performed Riverrun, a site-specific dance choreographed by Butler University Dance Professor Cynthia Pratt for the StreamLines project. This dance was part of the programming for the project’s launch and performed in Holcomb Gardens on the campus of Butler University. The site-specific art invites the community to learn, explore and experience the science of Indianapolis’ water systems”
There’s also a video delving into the work on the musical composition and soundscape, and “explores the story behind the six musical compositions of StreamLines. Curator Michael Kaufmann worked with six musical artists – Olga Bell, Hanna Benn, Stuart Hyatt, Roberto Lange, Matthew Skjonsberg and Moses Sumney – to create the sound art for StreamLines. The site-specific art invites the community to learn, explore and experience the science of Indianapolis’ water systems”
Beyond Pogue’s Run, the work draws from a variety of local waterways, as mentioned in this post from Next City: “The White River flows through downtown, joined by Fall Creek, Pogue’s Run, Central Canal, Pleasant Run and Eagle Creek, many of which also flow through Indy’s most underserved neighborhoods.” Part static placemaking and part events, there is a simple google map to locate the places included.
It’s really interesting to see how Indianapolis expresses the connection to lost waterways and hidden hydrology primarily through art, spanning literature, dance, poetry, music, and environmental installations. It showcases the diversity of means to tell these water stories – technical, mapping, ecological, historical, artistic, designer, and provides a unique snapshot of a community, it’s rivers, and how each are shaped, and shape one another.
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.
Excited to see this announcement of a series classes focused around the Waterlines Project (see my post about it here as well). The four week ‘Waterlines Class Series‘ meets Wednesdays at the Burke Museum and costs $120 ($100 for Burke members), and aims to cover lots of territory on Seattle’s interesting landscape history. From the site:
Wednesday, April 19, 2017 The Origins of Seattle’s Landscape Dr. Stan Chernicoff Discover the dynamic geological forces that shaped and continue to shape the lands of the Salish Sea. During his 30-year tenure at the University of Washington, geologist Dr. Stan Chernicoff established a unique rapport with his students and a mastery of subject matter. In 2000, he received the University of Washington Distinguished Teacher Award for lively curiosity, commitment to research and passion for teaching.
Wednesday, April 26, 2017
Before the Cut
Dennis Lewarch, Suquamish Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Using archaeological, ethnographic and historical data, Dennis Lewarch disccuses the effects of shoreline transformations on indigenous populations. A professional archaeologist, Lewarch has worked in western Washington for over 30 years and brings useful insights that intertwine environmental change, archaeological data and tribal land use in the region.
Wednesday, May 3, 2017 Waterway: The Story of Seattle’s Locks and Ship Canal David B. Williams Find out what drove Seattle’s civic leaders to pursue the dream of a Lake Washington Ship Canal for more than 60 years and what role that canal has played in the region’s development over the past century. The author of Too High and Too Steep: Reshaping Seattle’s Topography, The Seattle Street-Smart Naturalist and Seattle Walks: Discovering History and Nature in the City, David B. Williams also organizes the Burke’s annual Environmental Writer’s Workshop. His upcoming book, Waterway, will be out June 2017.
Wednesday, May 10, 2017 Reclaiming the Duwamish Eric Wagner and Tom Reese Eric Wagner and Tom Reese, author and photographer of Once and Future River: Reclaiming the Duwamish, discuss the history of Seattle’s relationship with its one and only river. Wagner’s writing has appeared in Scientific American, Smithsonian, Audubon and other publications. Reese is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated photojournalist recognized for his feature work and explanatory reporting during his career at The Seattle Times.
The concept of history is relative. Living in the Pacific Northwest in the United States, a span of a few hundred years constitutes the sum of contemporary settlement and European colonization (with some exceptions). Many contemporary cities such as Seattle and Portland, for instance, were only formally settled in the 1850s, are were not urbanized for decades after, resulting in relatively short histories. Obviously these lands were populated for years previously by indigenous peoples, some with formal and informal settlements, however, either way, the modern urban form is young.
The eastern US has a slightly longer history, but even New York’s history of European settlement dates around 1600, so around four-hundred plus years. Many places in the world have a much different story and measure history is very different terms. Rome, for instance, offers a different scale of time, much deeper picture of history spanning millennia. Depending on who you consult, Rome was a village since the 9th Century BC and became a city around 753 BC, so has been evolving for almost 3,000 years. In much of this span “The Roman empire stretched over three continents, had 70 million people, and had a logistics and infrastructure system that kept them going for centuries.” (via Science 2.0)
A summary: “Aquae Urbis Romae is an interactive cartographic history of the relationships between hydrological and hydraulic systems and their impact on the urban development of Rome, Italy. Our study begins in 753 BC and will ultimately extend to the present day. We examine the intersections between natural systems–springs, rain, streams, marshes, and the Tiber River–and constructed systems including aqueducts, fountains, sewers, bridges, conduits, etc., that together create the water infrastructure of Rome.”
The site has a ton of information, especially great for an Italophile such as myself. The content is organized into a few categories, some of which are for archival purposes as their web presence is not longer functional, but there is info organized as a timeline (including a GIS Timeline Map), as well as by typology, and studies of topography. There are maps and a list of resources and some good primary and secondart texts available. The journal “The Waters of Rome” offers ten essays with some additional scholarship on Rome history and culture around water. I’ve yet to dive in depth into these, but look forward to it.
For hidden hydrology perspective, the Timeline features the ability to isolate typologies that allow focused look at systems. A section of maps on Hydrological Setting, shows the hidden streams overlaid on modern (c. 1998) city grid and topography. “This map represents a composite of data drawn from archaeological, geological, historical, and literary evidence concerning the hydrological structure of the intramural city and its immediate surroundings. It does not represent a specific point in time, but rather represents an amalgam of hydrological features, most of which have been known since antiquity. However, water is dynamic and therefore constantly changing. Springs can disappear, dry up entirely, or reemerge at a different, sometimes distant location. Streams and rivers can change course, and the profiles of their beds are constantly changing as well.”
This information is activated by translation into three-dimensional views in the Topography section, providing some more info on the landform that relates to historical streams. They are developed thematically as well, with a number of studies such as hydrology and aqueducts serving the baths and fountains in the city.
Today this is somewhat simplistic in terms of graphics. In 1998, this would have been pretty cutting edge stuff. Similarly, the GIS Timeline map offers both spatial and temporal info in a more interactive format, with the ability to customize. This is the best info I’ve found on historical hydrology of Rome, via the Geographic features typology that include Marshes, Swamps, Rivers, Streams, and Springs, a few of which are plotted below.
The focus is on water, but not just streams, there’s a range of other typologies, including water distribution, infrastructure, flooding, markets, walls, neighborhoods (rione), baths, fountains, and more. The icon based map allows for more info via pop-ups.
A legend shows the span on types of info captured, along translation of English and Italian terms.
The temporal aspect is a interesting idea, as it allows a fourth dimension to the mapping that seems vital to historical study. The slider (seen below) allows for all years to be selected, or to select individual decades, and eras, to capture snapshots of info at certain time frames. As mentioned on the site: “Follow the urban development of Rome through a unique G.I.S. timeline map that chronicles changes to the water infrastructure system from 753 BC through the sixteenth century. See how sewers, aqueducts, fountains and other hydraulic elements changed the face of Rome, as important people like Agrippa, Emperor Nero and popes Sixtus V and Clement VIII, among others, used water as an element of political control.”
This obviously works better for cultural features like buildings and fountains that have specific dates of creation and erasure, so not sure if it captures erasure of surface streams into subsurface routes. However, with enough information, you could show the disappearance over time for any water system and include animations at a time step (similar to this historical study of the Mississippi River gleaned from the Fisk maps). Something worthy of exploring with current GIS and animation technologies.
The site is plagued with some old technology in terms of web design (frames, for instance, which are awful for navigation), as well as the mapping and animations discussed above. This is tough, as its always hard to keep things up to date. Over time, something using the most recent tech quickly becomes outdated, especially on a project that spans decades such as this. That said, the content holds up very well, and some easy fixes would be to remove some of the clunky old maps and convert these to simpler embedded open source interfaces (Google Earth, etc) – as well as to be able to download GIS files of some of the key info. Sounds like from some of the notes, there’s some updates in the works, so look forward to reaching out to Ms. Rinne and see what she has planned.
The site offers each of the tiles of the map, (noted: Courtesy of Kersu Dalal, Johnson Fain Partners, Los Angeles). This shows a lot of amazing detail, and hints at slopes and ridges and depressions that impact water movement.
The most famous map of Rome is one of my favorites, not mentioned much on this site, but well known. Almost 200 years after the Buffalini map, the 1748 Map ‘Grande Pianta‘ by Giambattista Nolli (more commonly known as the Nolli map). This work of art is infamous for it’s detail and unique showcasing of public/private spaces inside and outside of buildings, versus pure figure-ground relationships. I’ll discuss this map and a few others from Rome in a follow-up post.
The recent post about the Mississippi River change illustrated in the Fisk maps reminded me of this lovely lidar image of the Willamette River, which encompasses the region around Portland, Oregon and south. The image Willamette River Historical Stream Channels, Oregon, 17 x 38 inches, by Daniel E. Coe (via the State of Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries – DOGAMI). From their site:
This lidar-derived digital elevation model of the Willamette River displays a 50-foot elevation range, from low elevations (displayed in white) fading to higher elevations (displayed in dark blue). This visually replaces the relatively flat landscape of the valley floor with vivid historical channels, showing the dynamic movements the river has made in recent millennia. This segment of the Willamette River flows past Albany near the bottom of the image northward to the communities of Monmouth and Independence at the top. Near the center, the Luckiamute River flows into the Willamette from the left, and the Santiam River flows in from the right. Lidar imagery by Daniel E. Coe.”
Via an article in the Oregonian, the utility of LIDAR in evaluating subtle changes that wouldn’t be visible via aerial photography is evident, and the “Lidar data is collected by low-, slow-flying aircraft with equipment that shoots millions of laser points to the ground. When the data is studied, an amazingly accurate model of the ground can be mapped. It is possible to strip buildings and vegetation from the images, so that only the ground is shown. In the Willamette River poster, the shades of white and blue show elevations. The purest white color is the baseline, (the zero point, at the lowest point near Independence on the upper part of the image). The darkest blue is 50 feet (or higher) than the baseline. The shades of white show changes in elevation, between 0 to 50 feet. This brings out the changes made by the river channel in the last 12,000 to 15,000 years, in the time since the landscape was basically swept clean by the Missoula floods.”
The evocative image that is fluid and abstracted, as mentioned in the Oregonian article by the mapmaker, Dan Coe:
“The different movements of the river make the image take a liquid shape, even almost like a cloud of smoke. This shows the magic of lidar.”
The concept of indeterminacy is built into any study of hydrology, whether contemporary or historical. Rivers, creeks, streams are in constant, dynamic flux with varying levels of human influence from relatively pristine to the buried, channeled and culverted forms that are often our focus on this site. The term, obviously means ‘not determinate’, but elaborating somewhat in simple terms via Webster, is “not precisely fixed in extent; indefinite; uncertain” or via the OED “Not exactly known, established, or defined“.
The idea of looking at historical maps to unlock the stories embedded is further complicated by this variation of time, as maps represent a fixed point in time but are not a specific known entity. This happens in many cycles, including daily, tidal, and also seasonal variations, but over time, this accumulated energy creates meanders that snake across the floodplains driven only by hydraulic rules and adjacent land characteristics. Less dynamic rivers or streams may maintain fidelity over time, while highly dynamic streams can move.
There have been some interesting aerial versions of stream change via the recently launched Google Timelapse, however, my go-to for visualizing indeterminate river are the Harold N. Fisk’s 1944 study of Geological Investigation of the Alluvial Valley of the Lower Mississippi River. Fisk was a Professor of Geology at Louisiana State University. Known as the Fisk Maps, these made the rounds of landscapeandmappingblogs over the past decade, blowing people away with both their complexity and artistry.
The ability to use two-dimensional graphic techniques to represent temporal change is the subject of much discussion in visualization and landscape urbanism circles, to name a few, and these maps are often held up as positive examples of showing dynamic processes. A wealth of information is found on the US Army Corps of Engineers’ site for the Lower Mississippi Valley Engineering Geology Mapping Program including the full report, large format. [Note: these files are large so I’m not directly linking to the zip files direct – so follow the link above]
The expanse of the Lower Mississippi alluvial valley drainage shows how much movement the river on it’s 600 mile journey through the Central Gulf Coastal Plan from southern Missouri to the Gulf of Mexico a massive delta landscape that has been massively altered by natural and human processes for decades, showing that even with our technological advances, the river often still doesn’t obey our wishes. [Aside: For some great reading on this, check out McPhee’s ‘The Control of Nature’, one of the best on the topic]
The idea of dynamism is key and the study of this change over time offers an interesting dilemma. The ever changing paths of meanders are able to be mapped in modern times, but previous paths require understanding geologic cues to trace that which had not been mapped. The black and white maps show the overlay of dashed meanders with aerial photography, which in the mid 1940s, was not new, but was still a relatively nascent planning technology, albeit rapidly expanding due to advances in World War II. It will be interested now with accessible tools like Google Earth and the constant documentation of detailed aerial and satellite imagery to see how a study like this would be done today. This map below is one of the figures in Fisk’s report, showing dramatic changes of a section of the river at a historic ‘Diversion Point’
The main report has predominately black-and-white imagery, probably due to reproduction costs in the 40s, but they still hold up. Any who has read a geotechnical report knows many of the techniques for representation of borings and soil strata know they can sometimes be a bit try and technical. This report is somewhat dense (and to be honest I’ve only skimmed some parts) but the visuals are so compelling.
Large, multi-page pull outs of regional geologic sections remind me of the early figures of von Humboldt, which contrary to more modern interpretations had a certain life to them.
Even the meander diagrams (in this case showing uses of clay plugs to control river bend migrations) are pretty cool in black and white.
Similarly, detail diagrams of braided stream topography and floodplain deposition are works of art, while also attempting to communicate immense amounts of technical information.
My hidden gem here is this graphic table of Geologic Time which traces Eras base a billion years and overlays the idea of big time with the relative amount of our recent human history. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this reproduced in modern geotech reports, or somewhere, but there’s something about serious report containing imagery of cave-people and dinosaurs to put the breadth of time in perspective.
Anyone who’s attempted to communicate using black and white figures knows they are tough to pull off graphically. The above examples show that there’s a lot of information that can be conveyed in simple linework and that it doesn’t need to feel static. That said, the beauty of the Fisk maps are the dynamic color plates, easily highlighting change and dynamic processes. A representive full map below shows the interplay of linework, hatching and color to bring the technical information to life.
A close up of a different map, showing the immense amount of information in meanders, oxbows, eddies, and the extensive floodplain of this massive river system.
The legend shows the color coding scheme based on when the rivers were mapped (solid) and those dervied from clues via aerial photograph analysis (hatches).
The entirety of the set of meander maps (that were rectified) has been stitched together – and is sort of incredible, via a Nerdist post from 2014. I’d love to print out these full size and display somewhere.
These meander maps are a next iteration of earlier mapping, derived from a series of Stream Channel maps from 1939 (also available via the LMV Mapping page) that show the most recent survey work (when I say recent I mean 1700s to early 1900s. It’s still impressive (and a bit simplified) to see the amount of channel change. Not sure if Fisk was involved in these maps, as they predated his involvement in the final report, but there’s similarities in graphic style and content.
While the maps of the meanders get much of press, I’m also a big fan of the Stream Courses (these are also part of the Fisk report, downloadable as plates via LMV Mapping page) which are larger maps showing multiple, color-coded maps of stream change over the past 2-3000 years. One of the maps below shows a section of the main step and remainder of the valley.
The key gives some idea of the way time is juxtaposed spatially on the map.
You can pinpoint the specific stream courses and alluvium in an enlargement, telling another complex story of river movement.
The reports and links abound with interesting information, such as the Entrenched Valley System, which delineates a dendritic network which contains the main channels and tributaries of the Lower Mississippi basin. This visual technique is somewhat more topographic, hinting at the tracery of valley to upland and basin shape that would be visible, and perhaps offered some resistance to channel migration over time.
This entrenched valley structure is shown in larger context, as the main stem outfall potentially being directed towards a real hidden river – a “submarine canyon” in the Gulf of Mexico. I’d be curious if that is the actual hydrology based on our current knowledge, but I’d not thought of subsurface hydrological flow influencing river systems (although in retrospect it makes perfect sense).
Some other interesting maps that tie in basin and river specific info are accessed via main LMV Mapping page. These show geological investigations and Alluvial Deposits throughout all of the basins. Clicking on a basin will get you to specific 15 minute quadrangle maps, selectable within the study area.
The maps show distribution of alluvial deposits, which is less about channelization than the overall reach of the floodplain hydrology. The difference between low-lying Baton Rouge, for instance with a wide flat deposits.
… contrasted with a more northern location, Caruthersville, Missouri which shows a long series of bends and oxbows left over time.
I also love the annotated sections showing strata via geological investigation, in this figure for Caruthersville highlighting predominate soil types.
As mentioned, the idea of indeterminacy is writ large in the study of hidden hydrology as it connects historical ecology to the modern metropolis. History is a series of touchstones over time, and the information we have is always incomplete, requiring us to interpret the data points we have and make inferences to that which exists in the gaps of knowledge. If we are to use the historical maps and sources we must understand this process (and perils and pitfalls) and be respectful of what we know and that which we can never know. Indeterminacy, as with life, is the heart of these explorations.
The work of Fisk on these maps is also a great example of looking back in time at a dynamic system and unlocking the story in visual terms. The visualization challenges can be addressed in a number of ways, and technologies of visualization exist today that our predecessors didn’t have, but also show that we don’t need to rely on too much technology to tell a vibrant story – a pen and paper, perhaps some color, as proven above, can tell many tales.
As outlined in my previous post, the San Francisco Bay Area is loaded with many hidden hydrology focused activities and groups working throughout the region. This follow-up post will address the amazing depth of resources available for historical maps and other resources for mapping and exploring lost rivers and buried creeks in the bay area.
The first place to look would be the amazing Guide to San Francisco Bay Area Creeks, which has an amazing array of creek maps covering the entire region, published by the Oakland Museum of California, many of which were also funded by the California State Water Resources Control Board and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. You can select maps or use a sort of useful Graphic Creek and Watershed Finder to select areas via map.
The site itself isn’t just a portal to information, but includes a lot of maps, historical and contemporary as well as supporting info like Creek’Zine with stories of local history, or a glossary of creek and watershed terms. Each map page offers links to the many creeks either through text or clickable smaller basin maps, like San Francisco.
Clicking on the map triangles yields more info – ostensibly what is found on the full printed map, but it’s nice to have really easy access to this online, in some depth. An example is found in the link to Glen Canyon:
The key shows the depth of information available, including the basins, man-made and natural drainage infrastructure, waterbodies, fill and other structures.The sidebar has keyed Historical Features, circa 1850 including ‘Creeks, buried or drained’, ‘Ephemeral creeks’ and areas that were filled.
Each map page also links to a number of historic or descriptive maps that outline water systems, topography or juxtapose the new and the old. For Islais Creek, above, a 1896 USGS Topographic map shows some source materials and evolution of the area prior to filling the historical features.
The main excerpt maps are zoomed in versions of the larger printed maps, which are pretty dramatic (in their digital form). This one showing Oakland and Berkeley areas in the East Bay. “The printed version of this map presents both the historical and modern hydroscapes of the western drainages of Northern Alameda County.”
I can stare at these for hours even though I don’t live there, that’s how fascinating they are. Click on the map to download a PDF, (3.0 MB)
An excerpt shows the detail (in this case around Lake Merritt) which is pretty representative of the maps.
I’m still amazed at the coverage of these maps, and although some are getting old, the overlay info should still be pretty accurate even in the boom of development and redevelopment happening in the area. There are maps for purchase and download, along with some GIS and KMZ files for further mapmaking opportunities. As San Francisco proper is (mysteriously?) the only version of the PDF map not downloadable, I purchased a few of the printed maps so will see how they look when they arrive in early January.
As an added bonus, I really liked this animated map showing San Francisco in 1869 and 2007. (will launch in new tab for a bigger version). This shows a simple evolution of the entire city, rotating through 150 years of change. A dramatic difference, I’d say.
An additional find was the Guide to East Bay Creeks, a brief series of essays by Sarah Pollock, Shelby Hall & Christopher Richard. Now only available online, which includes narratives for the specific hydrological and ecology – sort of a regionally specific creeks 101. From the intro:
“Throughout the East Bay city dwellers are recognizing that even in urban areas we have wildlands valuable to humans and other animals. These people are learning ecological relationships through direct experience, and they are hoping that ultimately there may be an attitude shift, a cultural recognition that even city dwellers are an integral part of a living system.”
The previously mentioned San Francisco Estuary Institute, which was responsible for some of the maps available above at the Guide to San Francisco Bay Area Creeks, and is a wealth of information on their site, both in terms of research reports but also GIS information. In their Data Center, you can search for tools, services, visualizations and other resources applicable to resilience and historical ecology among other topics. Their work extends throughout the region, but has many overlaps in the Bay Area, including the GIS data for the Alameda Creek Historical Ecology study mentioned in the previous post, and rich data sets such as The San Francisco Bay Shore Inventory: Mapping for Sea Level Rise dataset provides a comprehensive and consistent picture of today’s Bay shore (up to MHHW + 10ft) for all nine Bay Area counties. These data are available in ESRI ArcGIS file geodatabase and Google Earth KMZ format.”
Building on the last study, the SFEI folks also had a link to an awesome Historical Ecology resource, the online viewer for U.S. Coast Survey Maps of SF Bay, which provides maps of shoreline “Under the direction of some of the leading American scientists of the 19th-century, the USCS created exceptionally accurate and detailed maps of the country’s coastline. In the San Francisco Bay Area, these surveys (commonly referred to as “T-sheets”) are the most important data sources for understanding the physical and ecological characteristics of the Bay’s shoreline prior to Euro-American modification.”
The interface could use an update, but with a bit of digging the T-Sheets are available for download and are rotated and georeferenced, and includes raster and vector files. The image above I rotated and cropped – and you see that, aside from utility, these are some of the most beautiful maps. Another zoomed excerpt.
I’ve dug into the T-Sheets for the Seattle area, and they are some great maps with pretty extensive coverage. A few links provide a good tutorial, including a T-Sheet Users Guide authored by Robin Grossinger, From their summary: “This guide discusses the historical maps of San Francisco Bay produced by the United States Coast Survey (USCS) and their application to present-day environmental efforts in the region.”
There are also Seep City maps, the project mentioned in the previous post, including print maps, atlases, and a forthcoming book available for purchase from Joel Pomerantz. Another regional resource worth checking out is the Watching Our Watersheds – interactive mapping from the Santa Clara Valley Water District, which provides a good example of online interactive water tools using Google Earth. Check it out and download the data at the link.
I’d be remiss without touching on some of the cool historical map sources, including a few gleaned from the Guide to San Francisco Bay Area Creeks page, including this interactive map from the 1860s
More to come as I’ve barely scratched the surface on SF Bay area and have not fully looked at historical sources other than those mentioned elsewhere. This may be due to the amount of info available rivals most cities. Kudos to the people at working in this region for providing inspiration and great precedents for work to apply elsewhere.
One of my favorite organizations, SPUR, has an article from 2006 in their archives ‘Of Buried Creeks and Thwarted Plans‘ worth reading, which explores Burnham’s unrealized 1905 Plan for San Francisco which would have created open space in favor of freeways. “Perhaps one of the most remarkable features of the unrealized Burnham Plan would have made Islais Creek the central natural feature of a long linear park stretching from the upper reaches of Glen Canyon all the way to the bay; today the water runs in culverts buried under the bleak interstate freeway, one of the few that overcame citizens’ opposition in the 1950s and ’60s.” Across the Bay the situation is similar, with references to hidden waters of Temescal Creek and it’s potential daylighting, as well as similar efforts in Berkeley to daylight urban creeks.
The San Francisco Bay Area has a number of interesting projects and resources worthy of investigation and emulation, spanning from mapping, artistic interventions, and historical ecology, warranting a couple of posts to capture in total. Here’s a few of them.
Seep Cityis a project of the local Joel Pomerantz“a writer and natural history educator recognized for his work in waterway research, local journalism, public art and community service”, who also focuses on local urban explorations through the group THINKWALKS. The Seep City was funded by a Kickstarter from early 2015, and is squarely related to the hidden hydrology, as explained on the site. “When San Francisco was first becoming a city, it had many more waterways than now. Those were wet years. When dry years came the gullies became annoyances. People filled in the creeks and low areas with sand, debris and gravel. Marshes and sloughs were filled, too. The edges of the city were expanded into the Bay, making sailable water into salable lots. Today’s rain goes right into sewers, for the most part. Few absorbent soils are still exposed. Remarkably, surface creeks do still flow, here and there. And when you dig, you still find groundwater. If you search you’ll see springs, mostly small, seeping and trickling out onto our landscape.”
“There is now (2010) very strong evidence surfacing that some of the historical assumptions that calculations and details in this article were based on need to be reinterpreted due to further scholarship. Specifically, although many maps show one, it appears that there was never an enduring freshwater lake in the Mission District. It turns out that “manantial” means spring-fed, rather than merely any freshwater. The waterways in the Mission area were all stream-fed, and Anza’s journals make it clear that “laguna de manantial” was a reference to Washerwoman’s Lagoon (earlier called Laguna Pequeña) in what is now the Marina and Cow Hollow areas. Anza passed this on his way to search for a site for the mission and thus included it in the same description. However it was not in the same geographic area.”
The original essay, linked here, shows some more dialogue on this errata. To me, it’s an interesting journey around the continuing evolution of hidden hydrology, that it is often a continual process of refinement and discovery. Some interesting dialogue as well is included on the origins of Phelp’s Lake. and as explained by Pomerantz, “Of course, my discovery creates other layers of mystery.”
Ghost Arroyos is a project that got a fair amount of press (Curbed SF, CityLab) emerged from the Market Street Prototyping Festival and the brainchild of Emily Schlickman and Kristina Loring. From the site: “Hayes Creek, a large underground waterway, is still flowing beneath the streets of San Francisco today. We asked passers-by to look behind them – the water spraying from the United Nations Plaza fountain is from Hayes Creek. Beneath their feet, the BART transit authority runs de-watering pumps to keep the tracks from flooding. Even some buildings around the Civic Center still use Hayes water today. To trace the flow of Hayes, they followed the chalked blue lines as they continued down 7th street. In less than a block, they came to where Hayes Creek historically surfaced into a marsh. There they found a watery sonic surprise.” A map below shows the location of Hayes Creek.
From the original project proposal: “Every city has invisible histories embedded within its landscape. Up until the 19th century, ephemeral streams ran through nearly every valley in San Francisco, channeling rainwater to peripheral tidal estuaries. This project, “Ghost Arroyos” seeks to reveal these forgotten waterways of the city through a simple, but powerful intervention. Situated between 7th and 9th street, the project will mark the historical footprint of the arroyos onto the urban surface through paint or lighting. Visitors to the festival will be invited to trace the path of the waterways while listening to a curated recording of hydrological soundscapes and oral histories.” The visual of a painted streetscape was a evocative invitation to the potential to cue people into this lost creek.
The implementation of the project is early, so looking forward to seeing this evolve. A few photos showing a small scale installation of paint on an intersection. A key part of the project is the audio aspects which are available in situ, through boxes mounted adjacent to the ‘painted’ streets. There’s even a step-by-step breakdown of how to make the speakers via Instructables.
The audio is found here on their site:
San Francisco Estuary Institutehas long been a key resource in the region, providing “…scientific support and tools for decision-making and communication through collaborative efforts. We provide independent science to assess and improve the health of the waters, wetlands, wildlife and landscapes of San Francisco Bay, the California Delta and beyond. SFEI’s 50 scientists and experts provide data, technology and tools that empower government, civic and business leaders to create cost-effective solutions for complex environmental issues–from cleaner water and sustainable communities to climate change. We have three primary programs: Clean Water, Resilient Landscapes, and Environmental Informatics.”
My main interest related to the connection between hidden hydrology and historical ecology, which can be defined as synthesizing “…diverse historical records to learn how habitats were distributed and ecological functions were maintained within the native California landscape. Understanding how streams, wetlands, and woodlands were organized along physical gradients helps scientists and managers develop new strategies for more integrated and functional landscape management.” It goes further to explain that “Researchers are increasingly recognizing that restoration and conservation strategies have often been misguided (and unsuccessful) because of a lack of understanding of historical conditions (e.g. Hamilton 1997, Kondolf et al. 2001, Foster and Motzkin 2003, Merritts and Walter 2008). This is particularly true in California, where our cultural memory is short and we have tended to impose concepts appropriate to more humid regions to our Mediterranean and semiarid landscapes (which will become only more so).”
An indicative study comes from the Alameda Creek Historical Ecology Study from 2013, which assesses: “watershed conditions prior to significant Euro-American modification, as a basis for understanding subsequent changes in watershed structure and function, and potential options for future environmental management.” While the mapping involves a cast of many, Robin Grossinger, director of the Resilient Landscapes Project is wellknownfor historic ecology in the bay area, and has written extensively on this, including many articles in SF Bay area.
Aside from reports, there are examples of online resources and studies, such as The Historical Ecology of Miller Creek, which was “…designed to inform residents of the watershed and other interested people about past and present ecological landscapes within the watershed, and how this information might be used to plan for the future. The time frame begins with indigenous land use practices and considers the effects of Euro-American settlement beginning about 200 years ago, continues through the present, and briefly examines the future needs of the watershed. This description is meant to broaden the view of what Miller Creek Watershed could become through science-based planning and careful management. Human induced changes in land use have affected the natural functions and habitats of the Miller Creek watershed. The emerging story foresees ongoing change that would benefit from a comprehensive understanding of the watershed’s history while planning to define and secure essential watershed services for the future.”
There are also a number of other urban explorations and art installations worthy of mentioning in brief. These precedents offer some interesting examples of engaging larger communities with hidden rivers and creeks, through bike tours of sewers and regular walking tours of hidden waters.
Some specific examples are summarized below:
One I spotted a few years ago were an interesting series of “tours” that are part geographic and part performance art. Led by artist Chris Sollars, as part of the project Water Shed, which was conducted during Southern Exposure’s Off Shore from 2014, participants walked Islais Creek, Mission Creek, and Yosemite Creek in San Francisco. A summary: ““Tracing the hidden path of Islais Creek, Chris Sollars leads a walk from source to Bay while carrying a rope that references the length of one city block. Beginning in Glen Park Canyon, the group will journey through downtown Glen Park, the Alemany Farm, Alemany Flea Market, a Google bus parking lot and the Southeast Treatment Plant. Stopping at various points along the way, the walk ends in Islais Creek Park to enjoy food and drink gathered along the route. There, participants will be ferried onto and off of Water Shed, a floating shed-like structure.”
There are videos of the walks as well linked from Sollars’ Vimeo site – check one for Yosemite Creek out here.
Across the Bay in Oakland, a project called ‘Creeks Beneath your Feet’ connects residents with hidden hydrology. “Former creeks, now buried in culverts, are memorialized by a series of bronze relief sculptures embedded into sidewalks at locations above these culverts. The pieces portray stepping stones surrounded by native fauna that inhabit the creeks such as Rainbow Trout, Pacific Chorus Frogs, California Newts and dragonflies. Each site features five bronze “stepping stones” inviting the visitor to step across as if crossing a creek.” An article in the East Bay Times provides more info and images, and a map of the locations is found here.
An art installation from Kevin O’Connor from 2012 called “Intimate Strangers: A Ritual for the Buried Creeks of San Francisco” uses hidden creeks as artistic inspiration: “Adding yet another layer to the mystery, massive surges of groundwater, much of it potable, travel continuously just beneath us from related “subartesian” sources that even historically never came fully to the surface. We easily overlook these “creeks” since they have never come into view to receive formal names. My proposal is to place 10 blues pools in a line along the creek bed that runs through Garfield Square. Each pool will be filled with water that I have collected from the buried creeks of San Francisco. The backyard wading pools remind us that there are buried creeks that hold water in many backyard homes in the Mission area.”
Finally, it’s a minor addition, but one map from Rebecca Solnit’s excellent ‘Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas’ shows the fragment of hidden hydrology in San Francisco. From a review in High Country News: “Third Street Phantom Coast,” for example, is a map of the peninsula’s eastern fringe that depicts a now-forgotten city of ancient shell middens, long-buried streams and concretized serpentine outcrops. It shows how, over the last 150 years, the city’s waterfront expanded as successive layers of landfill were dumped on the tidelands of the Bay. Vanished landmarks from the late 19th and early 20th centuries — the “Tubbs Cordage Company” and the “Site of rancho bear and bull fights,” among others — haunt the rendering.”