cultural

I tweeted a bit back that I’m reading the book Rivers Lost, Rivers Regained: Rethinking City-River Relations, and so far it hasn’t disappointed.  More info for sure on some of the great content on cities and rivers forthcoming. However, an intriguing  concept mentioned in the intro was the Japanese concept of shin-sui, which the authors loosely define as “playing with water”.  They mention these in an overall trend of cities refocusing on their urban rivers, and specifically of ways to encourage people reconnecting with these urban waterways. The authors bring up urban waterfront parks, and mention these “shin-sui” parks as a way of connecting with natural processes:

” “Although these projects were conducted for recreational rather than ecological purposes, they helped to turn people’s eyes back to nature.”  (18)

Translation being a tricky thing, there’s multiple meanings that emerge when one starts digging into the concept of shinsui (and someone with a grasp of Japanese beyond my total lack thereof please correct me).  Online definitions, include water references, summarily – flood, fuel & water, inundation, as well as having meanings for adoration, cooking, salary.

Another reference in a book that popped up in a Google search, Japan for Kids, has a great way of describing the parks a friendship: “A new concept in neighborhood playground is a ‘shinsui park.’  Shinsui means literally ‘to be friendly with water.’ A shinsui park is one with plenty of water attractions that provide children with a chance to get use to water by playing in it.” (127)

The designs for these transcend the mere “splash play” or water park, but do share some of the same elements of interactivity and immersion.  Owing to the diversity of density of Japanese cities, they are often narrow, but it does show the potential for even abstracted water courses to co-exist with urbanization.

Otonashi Shinshi Park is one of these very urban examples, located in the northern area of Tokyo and literally wedged in a channel between development.  You get a feel for the scale and elements, in this case a high-walled channel that opens up to some more interactive and tactile elements.

A little more lush version from photographer Andy Serrano is found at Oyokogawa Shinsui Park, which he describes: “The park runs alongside the Oyoko-gawa River in the Sumida Ward of Tokyo, and is a popular place for local residents who play, walk, fish, and even swim there. With the Tokyo Sky Tree looming nearby, cherry blossom season gives visitors a taste of Japan’s dual natures: historic traditions side-by-side with ultra-modernity, natural beauty next to futuristic technology and architecture.”

The Tanada Shinsui Park on the Houzuyamma River in the village of Toho in Fuuses some vernacular elements to create a “River pool…for the infant and elementary school children [and the] …”Koinobori pool” river pool is a pool that uses the difference in height of the rice terraces.”

Another urban example is sculptural pools of the Arima River Shinsui Park near Kobe, Japan, which is located near Arima Onsen, one of the oldest hot springs locations in the country.

As mentioned, these few examples I’ve show are not about restoration, and vary from just parks by the river to ones with active recreation elements focused on water.  While natural edges occur, many are somewhat channellized, highly designed and very abstracted river environments — akin the art-side of the conceptual continuum of restoration.  The goal here is more recreational, but, as the editors of Rivers Lost mention, they may provide a powerful precedent for engaging people of all ages with their natural waterways, and informing urban residents on the natural processes

 


HEADER: Otonashi Shinsui Park – Tokyo, via Japan by Web

As I alluded to in the previous post on smaller lakes, the large Seattle lakes provide the form and contribute to the overall sense of place. River cities are shaped differently than coastal and lake cities, and the relationship with water differs due to this morphology. In either case, any urban waterway will exist in balance with many factors of urbanization, industrialization, influencing the ecological and social connections between hydrological and other systems.

In addition, because these larger water bodies exist in tandem with anthropocentric activities, they accumulate a mix of the odd and off-beat. And while I was excited about the idea of “Searching for the Mystery Sharks of Seattle”, those particular mysteries ended up a bit further outside the realm of our local water bodies. However, in Seattle, there is still evidence of some strange things in both Lake Washington and Lake Union, worth a bit of exploration.

LAKE UNION

Starting with Lake Union, which seems to have a bit less info, this article from Seattle Magazine from 2013, “Unlocking Lake Union’s waterlogged secrets — one sunken treasure at a time” is a good overview of some of the exploration.

One endeavor is the Center for Wooden Boats and their Underwater Archeology Project, starting in 2008. A good overview of this is the form of a post from 2011 by Dick Wagner “Beneath the Waters” recounts some of the finds, including a range of boats from back into the 1880s, as well as cars, motorcycles and even a Vespa scooter.

A video ‘Shipwrecks of Lake Union: Seattle’s Hidden History” the explorations from 2012:  “This short video documents the Lake Union underwater archaeology project that The Center for Wooden Boats Founding Director Dick Wagner has been helping lead for the last several years. CWB is working with the UW’s Burke Museum, The State Department of Ecology, and others to locate and document vessels and other historic artifacts. Using the latest in underwater technology, divers and amateur archaeologists have been scouring the 40-foot-deep lake, looking at more spots where sunken vessels lie.”

The Lake Union Virtual Museum also has a nice map of a few of the wrecks on their site, clickable with some photos of some of the 100s of wrecks in the lakes (go to the link to interact)

The wreck of the J.E. Boyden, which is one of the finds of the Underwater Archaeology Project above, is located in the south part of the lake, “One of the oldest and best documented wrecks in Lake Union, the J.E. Boyden was built in 1888 and has been on the lake bottom since 1935.”

The Global Underwater Explorers Seattle group, which educates divers.  From their site:  “our exploration projects will have the ultimate goal of gathering consistent observational data and documenting the degradation or appreciation of our submerged resources over time.  Through data analysis, we aim to drive policy-changing efforts to conserve, protect and create public awareness for our submerged resources”  They also maintain Project Baseline, which is an interactive online map which displays bathymetry of Lake Union and Washington, with documentation of these wrecks as well as unknown and unexplored underway element.  The Lake Union area in whole, which also shows the lake to be quite shallow, maxing out at about 40 feet at the deepest points.

A zoom in on the south section offers some interesting underwater topography, and the information about the Boyden, with a pop-up of info.  Go to the map and check it out and you can see the distinct shape of the boat on the surface.

There’s definitely some novelty to the concept of shipwrecks, and the information appeals to a certain geeky longing that seems visceral to the water.  As summed in the Seattle Magazine article there’s more to it that that:

“The effort to record these old wrecks is not simply a matter for scuba heads or boat geeks. Lake Union is the heart of Seattle’s maritime origins; filling in the story of its transformation from a pristine natural lake to a center for industry (including sawmills, brick making and boatbuilding) to a recreation hub through photos and film is of tremendous value.”

LAKE WASHINGTON

As for Lake Washington, the significantly larger water body, it doesn’t take much digging to uncover a range of good stories and mysteries.  A 2014 KUOW Story is a good starting point: “What’s On The Botton of Lake Washington? Planes, Trains And…” hints at the diversity of subsurface elements, including planes “ Lake Washington is like a treasure trove for old plane wrecks. There are at least seven at the bottom of the Lake. They’re a frozen piece of our wartime history, a time when mock air battles raged over these waters. Midair collisions would send airplanes crashing into the lake.”

SHIPS

One there’s no shortage of, much like Lake Union, are ships, many of them either lost in accidents, or purposely scuttled.  Per the KUOW story, “…there are about 400 boats beneath the surface: ferries, barges, three Navy minesweepers, mostly in the shallower waters off Kirkland, where the Lake Washington Shipyards used to be. Now, it’s a graveyard for wrecked boats. “These are full-on, full-sized ferries on the bottom, right underneath all the yachts that are parked there now,” said diver Ben Griner, also aboard.  As for the minesweepers, one day they were docked, the next they were gone.”

For as long as there’s been water and something staring into its depths, there’s been the desire to dive in and see what’s underneath.  Overlapping with the Global Underwater Explorers (GUE Seattle), is the Maritime Documentation Society, (link is to Facebook, as their original link is bad) is one of those groups that do this on a regular basis, with a mission.  From their page, it is focused on  “exploration and documentation of existing, undiscovered, and natural historic shipwrecks. Our goal is to create public awareness and expand the wealth of history for present and future generations.”  

Some good videos are also found via DCS Films, which is ‘Dedicated to Advanced Technical Diving and Underwater Cinematography’ is a good resource to see what its like submarine, and they have some info on Lake Washington Relics.  A clip from a story from “KCPQ 13 on the artifacts of Lake Washington A joint effort of the Maritime Documentation Society, DCS Films, and GUE Seattle” offers a bit of the footage.

Similarly the afforementioned GUE-Seattle has some great info about explorations on their blog, along with the maps shown before.  Some of the stories of the dives are a fun read, to understand that equipped with a bit of info such as a general location and some scans, the fun is in exploration.  One such as this exploration of LW250, an unknown object, seen here in the bathymetric view.

And the interesting perspective of the side sonar imagery, seen below.

From the post: “We found a well-preserved wooden sailboat in good condition and it was a pleasure exploring it. As is true with most fish stories and dive stories, this was the most spectacular boat even found. It had a hole in the deck with treasures of very old bottles, ledgers of misplaced bank funds, police ID badges, a revolver, and an attaché case chained to the railing…..actually it had none of that, but it was as exciting as if it did. Just to be there on this boat that no one had ever seen was thrilling. The boat actually had a Washington state registration number and the last year sticker on the side was 1983.”

A snip of the GUE-Seattle Bathymetry shows part of the Lake (it’s a really big lake) showing a range of underwater explorations, and also the relative depths, as you see see beyond the east side tidal zones, the edge of Lake washington falls off sharply from the Seattle shoreline (on the left side of the map).

And while the shipwrecks are cool, I’m really fascinated with the bathymetric info as an interesting exploration of hidden hydrology that goes beyond creeks and rivers – especially as there was so much manipulation of the Lake levels amidst the re-plumbining of the entire region, this information provides some great clues to a history unique to a lake-shaped city.

AN UNDERWATER FOREST

My interest in this topic in general was piqued by the May 2011 KUOW story “The spooky, underwater forests of Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish”, which describes 1000 year old forests off the edges of areas of both lakes. Remnants of an 1100 year old seismic event, areas of these forests were discovered   The caption helps explain this image : ” This image is a close up of the standing timber on the south end of Mercer Island. The image is generated using a side scan sonar towed behind a boat about 20 feet off the bottom. The trees are visible mostly from the shadows they cast.

There was a video I do recall seeing, but all the links now seem to be gone.  It was bit disorienting, so aside from a glimpse of something tree-like, it was alot of darkness and blurriness, which makes one thin.  Ben Griner of Coastal Sensing who explored the Lake via sonar and underwater is, quoted in the story “…describes the drowned trees off the southern coast of Mercer Island as a thrill to swim through (although he gets not everyone would see it that way). “It’s certainly a disorienting dive,” he said. “A lot of people call it really freaky. Other people describe it as exciting and interesting.” The lake is pitch black at that depth — and being underwater can mess with one’s sense of movement. Griner said it’s sometimes difficult to tell if the water is moving or he is, and divers often bump into things.  “Because of how long the forest has been under water and how busy the lake is, most trees are just the trunks now,” he said. “It can be a little creepy, but it’s really fun to swim through the trees.”

 

From the Wikipedia page, the location of the underwater forests are located in yellow, adjacent to Mercer Island to the south, and another segment.  Per the page, the earthquake from around 900 C.E. created “The landslides on heavily wooded land created “bizarre submerged forests” of old-growth timber, preserved by the cool water and low oxygen in the deep lake.[1][5] These sunken forests were known to early European settlers of the Seattle area, for whom the snags could be a hazard to ships on the lake, and as early as 1919, nearly 200 of the sunken trees had been removed from depths of 65–132 feet (20–40 m)”

David Williams, who does his usual engagingly thorough job of discussing this topic back in 2014 on a post “What Lies Beneath – the Secrets of Lake Washington” discusses ships, and these Submerged Forests as well, explaining a chapter in the story (also mentioned in the KUOW story).

“Mostly forgotten, the trees merited public attention in the 1990s. In 1994, John Tortorelli was caught salvaging wood from the submerged forests. Unfortunately for him the state Department of Natural Resources owns the trees, plus he damaged an underwater sewer line. Found guilty of three counts of theft and three of trafficking in stolen property, Tortorelli received a jail term of three and a half years”

The post includes this map, highlighting the locations of the souther sections identified above.

COAL CAR ENDNOTE

As many discussed the other submerged worlds of ships and forests, both the KUOW article and David Williams mention coal cars on the bottom of the Lake as well.  Williams elaborates on the the eastside coal connection, which saw  a constant stream of “… coal was loaded on railroad cars at Newcastle and lowered 900 feet by tram to Lake Washington, where the cars traveled on a barge to Union Bay and then on a tram over the narrow neck of land now crossed by SR-520. A second barge carried the coal cars across Lake Union to a train (Seattle’s first) that carried the coal its final mile to a final tram, which lowered the ore down to a massive coal bunker at the base of Pike Street. It was on one of these trips across Lake Washington that the barge dropped its load of coal cars now sitting at the bottom of the lake.”  

With that frequency, the accident was bound to happen. To verify this concept, a cool shot from Coastal Sensing shows the scattered remains of perhaps these same “Coal Cars in Lake Washington Seattle.  Lost in a storm while transporting coal from Coal Creek to the small city of Seattle.” (read more about this here).


HEADER: Lake Union and Lake Washington Bathymetry – via GUE-Seattle Project Baseline Map

As January is quick turning into London month, we’re wrapped up on the summaries of available books on the subject, including works by Barton, Myers, Bolton, Talling, and Fathers, running a gamut of approaches to walking, studying, and mapping Lost Rivers.  I’d also be remiss if I failed to call back a 2016 post on another take on the subject, Iain Sinclair’s 2013 book ‘Swimming to Heaven: London’s Lost Rivers‘ which rounds out my collection on the subject.  The amazing amount of hidden hydrology literature provides a solid foundation, however, it is merely the tip of a massive iceberg visible layer of a vast and sprawling underground complex of content, and a starting point for discussing many of the other resources and discussion around the subject, including art, history, exploration, and maps.

A quick search of London and Lost Rivers or something along those lines yields plenty of material, including additional resource from the sources as diverse as London Geezer, which contains an extensive amount of information, to city specific hidden hydrology projects such as the Lost Rivers Project in Camden. A lot of ink (at least digitally) has been spent on this topic, with articles from BT like “8 of London’s lost rivers you probably didn’t know about” to BBC “The lost rivers that lie beneath London?“, the Telegraph (authored by none other than Tom Bolton, “The fascinating history of London’s lost rivers“, and perhaps the most prolific, the Londonist which covers this topic often, with titles like “The Secrets of London’s Lost Rivers” and info on specific rivers like “Counter’s Creek: In Search of London’s Unknown River” (authored by David Fathers) to a multi-part “Lost Rivers from Above: The Tyburn“.

Without going into extravagant detail and barrage you with too many links (there are over 100 I have at this point), it’s safe to say that London is by far the city with the most coverage, and it continues to emerge (such as this interactive virtual reality tour on the Guardian of London Sewers), showing that it’s a topic that continues to intrigue people.  For now, we’ll focus on some projects that work directly in the realm of these lost rivers, interpreting them directly through exploration and indirectly through art.

ART/EXPLORATIONS

Much of the interpretive work around hidden hydrology comes from art, in it’s various forms, and much of the art includes exploration, so I’m combining these two ideas in one here. We’ve previously featured artist Cristina Iglesias and her new installation Forgotten Streams in London as more of a site specific example, interpreting the Walbrook in water features outside of the new Bloomberg London HQ.

A spatial approach comes from Sandra Crisp, and her video project from 2010-2012 “Mapping London’s Subterranean Rivers”.  This work was “originally made as a site-specific installation for a group exhibition 2010 held in the semi derelict basement under Shoreditch Town Hall, London”  A soundtrack was added later and you can check out the full video at the link above.

A short blurb (with my one small edit) from the site: “The film allows the viewer to fly through a 3D map of London, revealing the sites of ancient and subterranean rivers based on research using old maps and books such as Nigel Nicholas Barton’s ‘The Lost rivers of London’. Evoking existing and long disappeared waterways that bubble unseen beneath our feet. Including; The Fleet, Tyburn, Westbourne, Quaggy, Counters Creek, Neckinger and more…..”

A detail shows the intricacy of the layering, in this case highlighting the River Wandle – but the stills don’t do it justice – check out the video for full effect.

Crisp also breaks down the research on the piece, where she shows a hybrid version of Barton’s map that was the basis for the piece, along with some of the ‘making-of’ info that’s pretty interesting.

Amy Sharrocks, a London based artist, sculptor and film-maker, created “London is A River City” from 2009.  As she mentions in her bioFor the last four years I have been making work about Londoners and our relationship to water, inviting people to swim across the city with me, floating boats to drift on swimming pools, lake and rivers, tying people together to trace lost rivers and re-create a memory of water.” 

The project included walks of lost rivers, which involved using dowsing as a methodology for walks of the Westbourne, Tyburn, Effra, Fleet, Walbrook, and Neckinger rivers.  Each of these are beautifully documented (with PDFs as well for download), and worth exploring in more detail.  Per her statement “Why I’m Doing it?“, she mentions:

“Tracing these rivers has been a process of layering: new stories over old, our footsteps over others, roads and railways over rivers. Uncovering a past of London I knew nothing about. Connecting to things submerged beneath our streets has uncovered a currency of the city, and enabled a kind of palm reading of London. 

The idea of walking is vital to this endeavor, coupled with the dowsing gives it a pyschogeographic slant. From her site:  “These rivers lost their claim to space in this city, long ago paved over, with their inconvenient tides and smells, to make way for faster roads and railways. These river walks have championed a human speed, that stumbles, stops to look at things, slows down when it is tired. There is a connection to the speed of water, a meandering dérive to battle the rising pace of modern life. We took the measure of London by our own strides, pacing out the city at our own speed.”   Flash-enabled website headaches aside, it’s a good project worth some time to dive in.  Read some coverage from the Independent on the Walbrook walk.  You can see more about some other work as well at SWIM .

Another project, this time with a poetic bent, comes from via ADRIFT, a project by poet Tom Chivers envisioned as a “…personal interrogation of climate through poetry.”, where he “sets out to explore climate as culture, mapping out the territory of climate science within urban space.”  The site has the full list of writings, and a nice archive of some related materials are also on the site.  It’s a project of Cape Farewell, which has a great mission of “bringing creativesscientists and informers together to stimulate a cultural narrative that will engage and inspire a sustainable and vibrant future society”, namely climate change.  An image from the ADRIFT site as part of a photoset “Walking the Neckinger: Waterloo to Bermondsey”

A graphic design work Hidden Rivers of London by Geertje Debets takes a different, more visual approach, as “A research on the letterpress technique, while developing the concept and design for the visualisation of the underground rivers of London.  London’s terrifying under half… Sometimes you can catch a glimpse of this underground life, but when you look better, you find the underground world everywhere, especially the underground rivers. The names of the underground rivers are used in street names, places, houses, companies, schools and orchestras. The locations of these places show you how the river floats.”

The work of Stephen Walter got a bunch of press a few years back, with this map of London that “…traces the lesser known streams, sewers, springs and culverts of the capital in intense, hand-drawn detail.”   Some enlargements of these maps, via the Guardian:

Another of Walter’s work that is worth seeing is the 2012  “London Subterranea“, which “…aims to shine a light on this clandestine infrastructure and it presents perhaps the first comprehensive map, open to the public, which places so many of its features alongside each other. It geographically tracks the routes of London’s Lost Rivers, its main sewers, the tube network and it’s ‘ghost’ stations including the Crossrail project. It also pinpoints archeological finds, ruins, known plague pits, secret governmental tunnels, the Mail Rail and the Water Ring Main tunnels. Epithets to the ‘underworld’ of crime, and the scenes of notable killings such as the acid-bath murders get a look in. So too does the site of the infamous Tyburn Tree and its many buried corpses that still lie in its wake undiscovered.”  

On the topic of the subterranean, photography as well plays a part, with many of the London area rivers featured in a National Geographic photo-essay, “11 Rivers Forced Underground“.  A book on the subject I’d like to pick up, Subterranean London: Cracking the Capitol (2014), is described via a blurb from Amazon:  “Bradley L. Garrett has worked with explorers of subterranean London to collect an astonishing array of images documenting forbidden infiltrations into the secret bowels of the city. This book takes readers through progressively deeper levels of historical London architecture below the streets. Beautifully designed to allow for detailed viewing and featuring bespoke map illustrations by artist Stephen Walter, this unique book takes readers to locations few dare to go, and even fewer succeed in accessing.”

The publication had some acclaim, with one of the images winning an architectural photography award, along with some controversy as noted in the CityLab article “The Photography Book London Officials Never Wanted You to See” which outlines some of the sticky issues of urban exploration, access, liability, and such. Content addresses more than just hidden waters, but does include some amazing photographs as seen below.

This resource on London sewers from 2011 that looks to no longer be actively maintained, is ‘Sub-Urban: Main Drainage of the Metropolis‘ which looks at the drainage via sewer exploration and photography: “Alongside more traditional study and research practices, such as access to archival materials and the use of other historic and literary resources, we apportion equal importance to the hands on scrutiny of our subject matter. Taking time to explore, investigate and photograph London’s sewers affords us a greater understanding of the often complex architecture and gives practical insight and knowledge that cannot be gained from any amount of time spent thumbing through books and documents.”  There’s a number of links on the site to other endeavors, as well as some great imagery, both current of their explorations, and some historical work, along with the timeless phrasing of the section “Close Encounters of the Turd Kind“.

And when you’re done exploring, you can always grab a pint at Lost Rivers Brewing Company and drink the range of available beers inspired by the rivers themselves, and perhaps peruse Ben Aaronovitch’s 2011 book “Rivers of London“, where he created a story around various water deities and river spirits on the Thames and areas of London.

HISTORY

The concept of hidden hydrology is intertwined with history, so threads weave through all of these art installations and explorations.  The history of the development of London is fascinating and overwhelming, but there are some great resources like British History Online, which has resources on the topic like the six volume “Old and New London” written in the late 19th century, to sites like Connected Histories, which provide timeline based search tools, or links from the London Historians’ Blog.

On the topic of Lost Rivers, the history of the Big Stink is pretty key historical moment, which was a vital impetus behind what became the modern sewage system and led to the demise of many urban rivers.  The idea of this also led to “a piece of Victorian science fiction considered to be the first modern tale of urban apocalypse”, William Delisle Hay’s 1880 novel “The Doom of the Great City”, which is covered in depth via this article in the Public Domain Review.

You can also access primary sources, such as  following along with Sir Richard Phillips as he explored the edges of London in 1817, in “A Morning’s Walk from London to Kew“.

Some visual history comes via ArchPaper “What a difference 400 years makes: Modern and medieval London contrasted in hand-drawn cityscapes” which takes historic drawing viewpoints and redraws them showing the current urban configuration.

A fascinating thread that came from some of the books was the legacy of Spas, Springs, and Wells that have been a long part of the history of London.  There are some good sites to engage with this history, such as London’s Holy Wells, or the resource Holy and Healing Wells, highlighting around around the globe, including London.  There’s some great documentation such as the book mentioned by Barton, Foord’s “Springs, streams and spas of London: history and associations” from 1910, and one mentioned to me by David Fathers, Sunderland’s “Old London’s spas, baths, and wells” from 1915, both great resources for hidden hydrology.  An illustration from Foord, showing a 1733 engraving of one of these places, Tunbridge Wells:

The history of the Thames River Postman is a bit more random but worth a read, outlining H.L. Evans who delivered mail along the Thames. “The Thames Postmen played an important role connecting people who lived on the river with the rest of the world. They also became something of a local celebrity being a constant in the fast changing landscape of the river. Considering that the job was not without its dangers, it was remarkable that the Evans dynasty managed to continue for over a century.”

A visual resource COLLAGE, is an image database of over 250,000 images from The London Metropolitan Archives and the Guildhall Art Gallery, and also includes a picture map so you can locate them spatially in London.  A quick perusal found me in the Serpentine in Hyde Park, which showed this 1795 “View of Cheesecake House, Hyde Park.

The concept of the larger regional picture is the website Vision of Britain over time, which is full of great information, and specific to the landscape is the book ‘Hidden Histories: A Spotter’s Guide to the British Landscape‘ by Mary-Ann Ochota which helps decipher the immensity of history through interpreting landforms and other traces.  From a review in Geographical:

“There is so much history to the British landscape. What with its stone circles, hill forts, mines and umpteenth century cottages, the land is marked with centuries of use. This can make it hard to read, like a blackboard written on hundreds of times and never erased”

As you can see, plenty of great work has happened and is still happening in London.  This is not an attempt to be comprehensive, and there’s tons more out there on specific rivers and locations, so consider this a teaser of sorts and google away for more.  I’m trying to find a simple way to share the mass of my resources and links online for further reading and reference, so stay tuned there, and future posts will likely expand on this rich history around hidden hydrology.  As a last reference to London, the last post in the series for now, following the lead of New York City, will be on maps.

 


HEADER:  Hand drawn map of the Rivers of London by Stephen Walter.

Jumping forward a bit,  the most recent of the books on London from June 2017 is another slim, exploratory volume, London’s Hidden Rivers by David Fathers.  Dubbed as “A walkers guide to the subterranean waterways of London’, this small book is extensive in scope and graphics.  From Amazon: “David Fathers traces the course of twelve hidden rivers in a series of detailed guided walks, illustrating the traces they have left and showing the ways they have shaped the city. Each walk starts at the tube or rail station nearest to the source of the river, and then follows it down to the Thames through parkland, suburbia, historic neighbourhoods and the vestiges of our industrial past. Along the way there are encounters with such extraordinary Londoners as William Blake, Judy Garland, Paul Robeson, Terence Donovan, Bradley Wiggins, Nelson, Lenin, Freud, and the great Victorian engineer Joseph Bazalgette.  Hidden Rivers of London contains over 120 km of walks, both north and south of the Thames. Winding through the hills, valleys and marshes that underlie the city, every page is a revelation.”

Fathers is an illustrator and map-maker, with a strong focus on walkiing guides, so this is in line with the other tour-specific guides, however, he visual and exploratory nature is inventive and really works with large, illustrated spreads (even in a small book), that highlight key points, while remaining focused on the route and the relation to the former waterway.  Text fills these empty spaces, in Fathers’ distinctive style.

There’s also a story beyond the story, not trying to get too much technical knowledge, but looking more at storytelling, for instance the Serpentine in Hyde Park, part of the route of the River Westbourne.  Some snippets of history, along with significant modern features, make for an interest mix.

I had seen snippets of his other books on the The London Thames Path and The Regents Canal, and really enjoyed encountering his work for the first time from this Londonist post, “The Lost London River With A Musical History“, which recounted one of the stories that eventually made it to the book, that of the River Westbourne, which “…like so many London streams over the past few hundred years, has been press-ganged by the demands of hygiene into becoming a sewer, and buried for the needs of ever more living space. And yet despite all this, the stream alone seems to have a mysterious, magnetic quality of attracting musicians to its banks.”  He recounts the experiences of a number of musical talents over history that were related to the hidden river, including below, where Judy Garland lived in 1969 (Site E) and Site G, which was the “site of the former Ranelagh Pleasure Gardens where a young Mozart gave a musical performance in 1764”  

A review from the Londonist mentions: “Each river is mapped in some detail, allowing the walker to follow closely, looking for clues: here a sloping side-road, there a gushing drain. The real joys are the little puddles of trivia that accompany each walk. Who knew that Lenin often frequented a fish and chip shop in the River Fleet valley? Or that Van Gogh fell in love on the banks of the Effra?”  Fathers had written often for the Londonist on the subject, with some great weekend walks along the routes of the Wandle, Lea, and Ravensbourne, with the expected maps and sketches, such as this from Ravensbourne.

You can follow him on Twitter @TheTilbury, and he’s also got some great info on all the books on his website, as well as this poster of the Thames, which “This full colour, illustrated poster, is packed with information about the architecture, bridges and monuments that line the banks of the River Thames as it flows through the capital city from Putney to Tower Bridge.”  

A recent article from the Global South Studies Center online publication Voices, as part of the issue on Social Water, discussed a unique project in São Paulo, Rediscovering Rivers in A Brazilian Megacity by Douglas McRae, a PhD Candidate in History at Georgetown University.  The focus of the article was on a project “Rios Des.cobertos” (Rivers Un.covered, or Dis.covered). which is “a collaborative installation between researchers and designers has sought to reignite these questions in the minds of their fellow Paulistanos, imparting a vision of the city’s hydrological reality through an exhibition combining history, geography, ecology, and visual art.”

The work emerged from a collaboration between “…geographer Luiz de Campos and architect José Bueno have coordinated the Iniciativa Rios e Ruas (Rivers and Roads Initiative), raising awareness of the city’s forgotten rivers through educational and community activities.”  The group has been working since 2010 with an aim to “Deepen reflection on the use of public space and bring back to the city the underground and submerged rivers.”   The methods are also outlined below, which includes research, field work, storytelling, and tours, all of which engage in the hidden hydrology of the city.

A map of the over waterways developed by Rios e Ruas shows many of the streams, and as mentioned in an article in the Guardian, “São Paulo has nearly 300 named waterways, says de Campos, and probably closer to 500 in total. A collective map used by Rios e Ruas shows the city looking like a vital organ, encased in a blue web of waterways – a network of mostly buried rivers and streams totalling more than 3,000 km. “There’s plenty of water in São Paulo,” says de Campos. “It’s just very badly managed.”

McRae continues: “In addition to leading walking tours in neighborhoods around the city seeking to uncover its forgotten courses of water, Campos and Bueno also organize educational sessions with students, and in general raise awareness regarding aquatic nature in the city. Another important aspect of their work has involved “reclamation” activities: physically uncovering and rejuvenating submerged headwater springs of forgotten or hidden rivers and streams. “Even the smallest improvement makes a big difference,” Campos told me in an interview, and such improvements can lead to the revival the plant and animal life in neighborhoods otherwise enveloped in concrete and asphalt.”

Some context on the interactivity, via McRae: “In selecting a program on the control panel, visitors trigger an animation of this fluvial drainage in motion, illuminating the component parts that contribute to the Upper Tietê watershed, the region where the Tietê’s headwaters are located. The formerly sinuous curves of the Tietê and Pinheiros in particular vanish with the passage of time. Other rivers are highlighted: for example the Sapateiro River, which flows south of the Espigão into the Pinheiros, feeding the lakes in the city’s sprawling Ibirapuera Park. Another, the Verde River, is artificially split into two different courses, and occasionally causes massive floods in the lower areas of the Vila Madalena neighborhood. One can observe how the city developed at first bounded by these rivers, later growing over them and causing them to fade from both sight and mind. Campos often reminds audiences that Paulistanos are rarely more than 300 meters from the course of a river. “Most Paulistanos have a vision of a city with three or four rivers” Campos explains, when in fact, any stream of water above or below ground can signify a forgotten river.”

I was struck by the use of technology to enliven the story of water, particularly as an installation.  Some more images from Estudio Laborg co-creators of the exhibit “…in partnership with the Rios e Rutas (Rivers and Roads Initiative), the exhibition Rios Des.Cobertos – The Rescue of the Waters of the City is made up of exhibition boards and a model with an interactive map projection that allows the public to discover the rivers and complexity of the relief of the municipality of São Paulo.”

The videos of the display really bring it to life, such as this one Caminho das aquas (Waterway or Water path), is stunning:

The use of a simple topographic relief model is augmented with projected imagery to show additional layers of information like water flows, basins. elevation, and other features.  Seeing it transform seems a powerful way to engage audiences, another here:

MORE FROM SÃO PAULO

A project of a similar nature is documented in this article Project Aims to Uncover Hundreds of Buried Rivers in São Paulo, Brazil which documents Cidada Azul (Blue City) “…implemented in a single week to bring attention to a part of São Paulo, Brazil that has been buried for a long time. In order to bring the smells, sounds, and freshness of the hundreds (yes, really) of rivers that cut through the city”  In addition to audio tours, they

“the blue city that transform our relationship with water in urban environments; for centuries the cities have treated their rivers and lakes as sewage channels and the result is that we can not enjoy their presence or enjoy their water”

The platform provides an awesome map a snap shown here, with their description: “São Paulo is a huge city built over more than 300 rivers. Today they are buried and polluted. Anywhere in the city you are, there is a creek flowing under your feet not further than 200m. Discover!”

There are also interactive audio guides, developed alongside Rios e Ruas, which are described as such. “The best way to discover São Paulo’s rivers is to walk the city. We are developing audio-guides that help you find and follow the river trails. Put on your headphone, choose a river and follow instructions.”  Stops along the way are highlighted by signage and blue paint.

The blue paint also comes up in other ways, with painted manhole covers, and streets to alert passersby of the routing of the hidden streams.  An image via their Facebook page shows one of these installations.

A couple of videos “The Blue City: The Meeting of Three Rivers” and the one below ‘”The Blue City: Green River” shows these endeavors in action.

An article in the Guardian ‘The river hunter of São Paulo – a life devoted to finding its lost waterways” delves into similar territory, following Adriano Sampaio, an “urban explorer who knows all of its hidden rivers and springs”.  Posting on Facebook as Existe aqua em SP, he documents these explorations, augmented by maps.  As mentioned: “He and his friend Ramon Bonzi, an urbanist, use 1930s maps laid over modern-day street maps to track down hidden and forgotten waterways, peering over walls, lifting manhole covers and climbing about in the undergrowth in search of rivers, streams and springs. “We always find something,” says Sampaio.”

Another article from Camila Cavalheiro is The Hidden Rivers of São Paulo, which provides some context for additional activities in the community. A few links are not working, as I’d love to find more about the “Rios (In)visíveis” project, but it seems to be not linked and the map leads to a blank page..  One that’s really interesting is Aqui passa um Rio (Here flows a river) has a more exploratory and performative nature, a project that is a Coletivo Fluvial (Fluvial Collective) which exists “…to generate actions of cartographic-performative character that rub on the surface of the city the awareness of submerged questions, like its waters. We work with multiple languages, actions and investigations in urban space, theoretical research practices, cartography, intervention, stencil, performance, music, space activation and meetings. We call for participation and open dialogue and free expression in the public space.”

Marking the spaces provides a permanence to the locations of the hidden rivers and engages the broader population.

A more studio based but no less beautiful artwork also comes in the form of  RIOS [IN]VISÍVEIS DE SÃO PAULO an installation by Clarissa Morgenroth, Isabel Nassif and Renata Pedrosa as part of a show ‘Connections’.  This interpretation using twine and nails maps the rivers and provides a nice aesthetic for hidden rivers.

A final project mentioned is Entre Rios, a documentary film that “…tells the story of the city of São Paulo from the perspective of its rivers and streams. Until the end of the 19th century, these waterways were the great sources of the city. Today, hidden by the pipes, pass unnoticed by most of Paulista. But in the rainy season, the city stops when floods show the buried face of local nature.”  In Portuguese only, it’s still pretty informative to one who doesn’t know the language.

ENTRE RIOS from Caio Ferraz on Vimeo.

NOTE:  Apologies in advance for any awkward translations, but wanted to distill the gist of info as most of the text is in Portuguese so I’m relying heavily on Google Translate here. (so please correct anything inherently wrong),


HEADER:  Installation from Estudio Laborg – RIOS DES.COBERTOS – EDIÇÃO SESC PINHEIROS – 2017

A follow-up to the previous post allows for a bit more expansion on the fundamental sources for New York City.  This includes the Welikia Project and it’s beginnings as Mannahatta, as well as the comprehensive book by Sergey Kadinsky on the Hidden Waters of New York City.  We delved deep with Steve Duncan’s sewer explorations and blog Watercourses and Undercity,  Together these make up a solid fundamental base of hidden hydrology work in New York City.  This also complements some of the projects I’ve covered, including the project Calling Thunder, which evoked the power of historical ecology via animation, the explorations around hidden infrastructure of photographer Stanley Greenberg, and some of the walks and installations focused on hidden streams with artist Stacey Levy.

That said, there’s still much more, so a postscript is in order to provide a bit of additional context to even claim to be a passable (although not even close to comprehensive) review of some of the city, with a focus on including some tours, art, history, and more.

SOME TOURS

One aspect of any place is explorations, and there is no shortage of tours around hydrology in New York City.  The group NYC H2O is a great resource for this, with a mission “…to inspire and educate New Yorkers of all ages to learn about, enjoy and protect their city’s local water ecology.”  They’ve hosted some great events in the past year alone, including tours with Steve Duncan, Sergey Kadinsky, and artist Stacey Levy as well as many others. City as a Living Laboratory (evolved out of the work of artist Mary Miss) also provides some great events, include walks, such as this one exploring the past and future of Tibbetts Brook with Eric Sanderson and others.

There are some less formal characters as well, like local activist Mitch Waxman, featured here in a NY Times article from June 2012, “Your Guide to a Tour of Decay”.  The article shows how he discovers, teaches and advocates about the hidden history of Newtown Creek in Queens, where, as quoted in the article: ““You have these buried secrets,” he said, explaining the thinking behind the occult conceit. He’s spotted early-19th-century terra-cotta pipes protruding from bulkheads, antique masonry sewers connected to who knows what. He added: “There really is no telling what’s in the ground there.”

And, for a somewhat related example, there’s always the amazing precedent of Safari 7, a self-guided subway based audio tour and map that highlighted “…urban wildlife along New York City’s 7 subway line”.  A map of the guide is found below.

SOME ART

In terms of some hidden hydrology based art installations, there are many that span permanent to ephemeral.  In the site specific realm, is Collect Pond Park, which was located in Manhattan historically as “…a large, sixty-foot deep pool fed by an underground spring” that was filled in the early 1800s.  A post here by Kadinsky & Kevin Walsh on Forgotten New York discusses the project and includes this rendering that highlights the interpretation of previous pond in the design of the new park. This includes a “…footbridge spanning the pond’s waist hearkens to the original pond’s shape, providing a historical link to a pond that has had such a huge role in the city’s history, before and after its burial.”

Another site is a fountain at Albert Capsouto Park, which references some hidden hydrology. From the Parks website:  “The centerpiece of Capsouto Park is a 114-foot long sculptural fountain by SoHo artist Elyn Zimmerman. This fountain bisects the interior space. Water spills from an 8-foot tower into a series of stepped “locks” evoking the canal that once flowed along the Canal Street. A sunning lawn rises up to meet the fountain from the south and granite seat walls adorn the fountain to the north.”

Capsouto Park Water Feature, 2009 – Elyn Zimmerman & Gail Wittwer-Laird

We discussed previously some of the hidden hydrology art of Stacey Levy, which was the tip of the iceberg of vibrant art scene in NYC interpreting hydrology as the medium.  One larger effort worth noting is Works on Water, which is “…an organization and triennial exhibition dedicated to artworks, theatrical performances, conversations, workshops and site-specific experiences that explore diverse artistic investigation of water in the urban environment.”  Their mission statement by the team sums up the potential:

“New York City has 520 miles of coastline. Its waterways are often referred to as “The Sixth Borough”. We are artists and curators dedicated to working with water to bring new awareness to the public of the issues and conditions that impact their environment through art.”

The sum of work there is worthy of it’s own future post.  In the interim, a few of the key contributors to Works on Water have their own complementary endeavors, such as Liquid City, a water based project by artist Eve Mosher, a self proclaimed “…water geek, urban enthusiast and playworker in training”, whom is “…fascinated by our waterways, the space they inhabit the roles they play in our daily life and finding ways to create a greater engagement across disciplines and a greater awareness in the public narrative.”

Liquid City: Currents (Eve Mosher)

Her project aims to be the following  “1. A research database of collected resources and video stories of people working on the urban waterways. An open source compendium for creative inspiration,  2. An interdisciplinary floating think tank/lab working on creative interventions about the urban waterways, and 3. A traveling think tank/lab sharing resources, traveling the Great Loop’s urban waterways.”   A fascinating work on her site is the Waterways System Map below (click the link for the fully interactive version) which involves “mapping the existing system of the waterways” in extraordinary detail.

Below is another of Mosher’s project, from  exhibit: “As part of Works on Water, I collaborated with Clarinda Mac Low to create a large scale floor painting of the NY waterways. Intended to ground people in the specific site of water as material within the exhibition, the waterways acted as a guide into the exhibition space.  Overlaid on the waterways was a video in which I represented the historic waterways and Clarinda imagined the future…”

A different project led by Kira Appelhans, adjunct assistant professor, Integrated Design Curriculum, Parsons The New School and Richard Karty, postdoctoral fellow in Environmental Studies, from 2011 is entitled Waterlogged. The endeavor “…explores the process of mark-making in the landscape from glacial to hydrologic to human.  We will examine the existence of remnant waterways and their relationship to the city’s organizational patterns and forms.   Using printmaking, restoration ecology, public space design we will explore the ecological impact of the intersection of historic waterways and urban infrastructure.”  The diverse artworks are captured in a video as well as a booklet ‘Remnant Waterways‘ (pdf) which showcases the work of students, including prints inspired by buried streams.

Iteration 3 – Eve Neves
Print by Mikaela Kvan

In the realm of photography, the work of Stanley Greenberg and Steve Duncan show two sides of underground New York City, and photographer Nathan Kensinger, who investigates “The Abandoned & Industrial Edges of New York City” shows a third.  He has an ongoing series entitled “New York’s Forgotten Rivers” where he has been documenting “New York City’s last remaining aboveground rivers and streams, in all five boroughs.”  An image below shows one of these photos.

Another recent exhibition “To Quench the Thirst of New Yorkers: The Croton Aqueduct at 175” that just completed it’s run at the Museum of the City of New York, offers a similar theme, with the tag line: “Uncover the hidden history of New York’s original water source, buried beneath the city”, it features “…newly commissioned photographs by Nathan Kensinger, tracing the aqueduct’s route and revisiting sights that Tower had sketched nearly two centuries before.”

Shifting from the visual to the literary, I previous mentioned the great Robert Frost poem covered in Hidden Waters blog, focused on Minetta Creek.  Another literary reference worth a look is this 1998 poem by Jim Lampos “Gowanus Canal” about the partially hidden and very polluted waterway in Brooklyn.  The whole thing is worth a perusal in detail, but I was struck by this passage, which evokes some of the history of place so acutely:

“I’ve come with a notion 
Old Gowanus, to recollect 
the splinters of dreams 
and severed fingers 
you’ve tucked away, 
the stolen pistols 
and sunken treasures 
you’ve saved 
the piss, tears 
dreams and sweat 
you’ve claimed. 
Recollect–shitty Canal 
stinking to the heavens– 
that you were once a river 
and hills rose from both 
your banks.  Brooklyn Heights 
nourished you as it returned 
your borrowed waters sweetened 
with the blood of revolution. 
A city was built 
all around you– 
a city of pizza parlors, churches and 
Whitman.  A city of pigeons, 
ice factories and hit men.”

SOME HISTORY

Tons of possibilities to cover in the history genre, as New York City has a million stories, In picking a few, I decided to focus on the ones that rose to the top due to their sheer uniqueness.  The one that was amazing to read about comes via Geoff Manaugh at BLDGBLOG, referencing a complicated series of posts about Fishing in the Basements of Manhattan that goes back to the NY Times blog ‘The Empire Zone’ and eventually a post link to a comment from 1971 Letter to the Editor, which mentions this potentially tall tale:

“”…We had a lantern to pierce the cellar darkness and fifteen feet below I clearly saw the stream bubbling and pushing about, five feet wide and up-on its either side, dark green mossed rocks. This lively riverlet was revealed to us exactly as it must have appeared to a Manhattan Indian many years ago.  With plum-bob and line, I cast in and found the stream to be over six feet deep. The spray splashed up-wards from time to time and standing on the basement floor, I felt its tingling coolness.  One day I was curious enough to try my hand at fishing. I had an old-fashioned dropline and baited a hook with a piece of sperm-candle. I jiggled the hook for about five minutes and then felt a teasing nibble. Deep in the basement of an ancient tenement on Second Avenue in the heart of midtown New York City, I was fishing.  Feeling a tug, I hauled up in excitement and there was a carp skipping before me, an almost three pounder. I was brave enough to have it pan-broiled and buttered in our upstairs kitchen and shared it with my brother…”

Going way back, a few folks referenced what seems an interesting resource, “Springs and Wells of Manhattan and the Bronx, New York City: At the End of the Nineteenth Century” by James Reuel Smith, in 1938, in which “…he reflects on the rapidly changing city and on the practical and aesthetic pleasures offered by the remaining springs: “In the days, not so very long ago, when nearly all the railroad mileage of the metropolis was to be found on the lower half of the Island, nothing was more cheering to the thirsty city tourist afoot or awheel than to discover a natural spring of clear cold water, and nothing quite so refreshing as a draught of it.” 

A photographer as well (see more in this collection “Photographs of New York City and Beyond” , his images are great documents of these sites which I’d imagine are mostly gone, although recently noted is a new discovery of a well in Brooklyn that dates back to the Revolutionary War era.

James Reuel Smith. Unidentified woman drinking at Carman Spring, on W. 175th Street east of Amsterdam Avenue, New York City. undated [c. 1897-1902]. Glass plate negative. New-York Historical Society.

Some more recent books note I’d love to delve into include the recent “Taming Manhattan: Environmental Battles in the Antebellum City” by Catherine McNeuer (2014), Gotham Unbound: An Ecological History of Greater New York,  (Steinberg 2015) and Water for Gotham: A History. (Koeppel, 2000) all of which paint a portrait of historical ecology that complements the inquiry of hidden hydrology.

Other short reads include Thomas J. Campanella’s essay in Terrain.org, “The Lost Creek”, and a great article connecting west to east worth from Nathan Kensinger, “What Can NYC Learn from San Francisco’s Last Wild Creeks?” where he looks at Islais Creek (and of course includes some amazing photos) as a model for how aboveground creeks can be a model.  He summarizes: “Flowing through an increasingly gentrified city,…this historic stream offers up a refreshingly untamed landscape. Though it travels just five miles from its headwaters in Glen Canyon to its mouth in the San Francisco Bay, and is bisected by a three mile underground segment, Islais Creek provides critical support to two radically different natural environments, both of which are currently undergoing extensive renovations. It also illustrates several approaches to urban planning that are unfamiliar to most New York City waterways.”

Islais Creek – photo by Nathan Kensiger, via Curbed NY

SOME MISCELLANY

With any discussion of hidden hydrology, the concept of daylighting always emerges as certain projects seem to lend themselves to this approach.  A presentation by Steve Duncan is worth a read as it covers this topic in depth, and the project with the most traction is Tibbets Brook, in the Bronx.  Located in Van Cortland Park, the daylighting push garnered a fair amount of press (here, here) and also a petition, with a detailed coverage in Untapped Cities from 2016 which shows an image from a report “Daylight Tibbetts Brook” (PDF file – from Siteation).  A figure from the report shown below identifies a potential route of the daylighted creek.

Before and After views of daylighted creek

Another final item worth discussing, albeit removed from hidden hydrology explcitly, is the image of climate change on the city.  We cover this in the context of modern New York via Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York: 2140, which imagines a flooded, post-catastrophe New York with, a narrative of New York as a “SuperVenice”, rife with political upheaval, class warfare, and and salvage operations referencing historic maps — setting the stage for a new geography that is equally fantastical and plausible.  As mentioned in the New Yorker:

“Another narrator—a nameless urban historian—tells the story of New York from a bohemian point of view. America’s boring losers all moved to Denver, he says, and so the cool kids took over the coasts. “Squatters. The dispossessed. The water rats. Denizens of the deep, citizens of the shallows.” The abandoned city becomes an experimental zone—a place where social innovation (“submarine technoculture,” “art-not-work,” “amphibiguity”) flourishes alongside “free open universities, free trade schools, and free art schools. Not uncommonly all of these experiences were being pursued in the very same building. Lower Manhattan became a veritable hotbed of theory and practice, like it always used to say it was, but this time for real. . . . Possibly New York had never yet been this interesting.”

The connections between this fictionalization and the changing climate that could lead to more frequent flood events, seems a timely connection between history (past) and what it means now and into our our future.  The story told by Robinson may be a bit lacking in places, but the details and context is compelling.

The vision of a flooded city in “New York 2140,” a science-fiction novel by Kim Stanley Robinson, is surprisingly utopian. via New Yorker

As you can see, there are literally hundreds of links for particular creeks, art, history, explorations, tours, and other discussions around New York City.  My original goal was to also include maps in this post, but as you can see it’s already bursting at the seams, so I will conclude New York with one additional post focused on the cartographic as to not overwhelm.


HEADER:  Bronx River, image by Nathan Kensinger as part of his New York’s Forgotten Rivers series.

As I mentioned, New York City and the larger metropolitan region is an important case study in hidden hydrology, with a range of interesting activities spanning urban ecology, history, open space, art, subterranean exploration, and much more.  As a city with a long and vibrant history it’s not surprising that the story of water would be equally compelling.  The following few posts will expand on some of the key activities that shape the hidden hydrology of the city.

Times Square then and now: the area featured a red-maple swamp frequented by beavers, wood ducks, and elk. – via the New Yorker

Almost a decade or so ago, I read this story in the New Yorker about Henry Hudson, the year 1609, a map, and an effort by a group of people, including ecologist Eric Sanderson, to research and visualize the historical ecology of New York City. I posted this  and posted it to my blog Landscape+Urbanism.  This was one of the catalysts, and I’ve discussed this project in the past as one the key Origin Stories around my personal interest in Hidden Hydrology.

Mannahatta Map – via NYC 99 ORG

The publication of the ideas with the publication of the Mannahatta book (originally out in 2009 and with new printing in 2013) and this broader work by Eric Sanderson (and his very well loved TED Talk) and crew on visualizing and creating rich data landscapes for Manhattan and the larger region is constantly compelling, and the shift to a broader scope under the name The Welikia Project in 2010 was really exciting to see.

The Welikia Project expands the  provides a rich and well documented study of the historical and ecological study of New York City dating back over 400 years and inclusive of a range of interpretation from art, ecology, and design.  The overview of Welikia here provides a much longer and more complete synopsis of the project, but I’ll pick some of the interesting ideas I think are worth of discussion in information larger ideas about hidden hydrology.

The main page offers a range of options that the project provides.  Per the overview page, “The Welikia Project (2010 – 2013) goes beyond Mannahatta to encompass the entire city, discover its original ecology and compare it what we have today…  The Welikia Project embraces the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island and the waters in-between, while still serving up all we have learned about Mannahatta.  Welikia provides the basis for all the people of New York to appreciate, conserve and re-invigorate the natural heritage of their city not matter which borough they live in.”

Tools include some downloads include curriculum for teachers to use, and some publications and data also available which would be fun to explore more.  A few notable bits of info worth exploration is this page “How to Build a Forgotten Landscape from the Ground Up”, which is a nice overview of the methodology used by the Welikia team, and provides a nice blueprint for organization of data that is transferable to any locale.

The original historical 1782 British Headquarters map was the genesis of any number of overlays that, once digitized into GIS, provided a historic base to layer additional information from other sources, along with inferences by professional ecologists and other members of the team.  These were also able to be georeferenced, which allows for the overlay of historic to modern geography, which becomes the basis for some of the larger interactive mapping we’ll see a bit later.  A map series from the Welikia site demonstrates the layering and aggregation possible.

1782 British Headquarters Map
Elevation differences from 1609 to today
Digital Elevation Model
Ecological communities

The concept of Muir Webs was also a fascinating part of the original Mannahatta book, so you can learn more about this on the page and via this presentation “On Muir Webs and Mannahatta: Ecological Networks in the Service of New York City’s Historical Ecology”

This Muir Web shows all the habitat relationships for all the species on Mannahatta. Visualization by Chris Harrison of Carnegie-Mellon University. ©WCS

Welikia Map Explorer – Lots of interesting background that I’ve literally barely scratched the surface of.  As I mentioned, the beauty of Mannahatta was the visualization of the historic surface, and through mapping with georeferenced location, provided an easy opportunity to create overlay maps of historic and modern.  The key part of this project is the Welikia Map Explorer, which offers a simple interface that can unlock tons of information.  Starting out, you have a full panned out view of the 1609 map visualization for Manhattan.

By selecting an address or zooming, you can isolate locations or just navigate.  It’s got that same video game quality I mentioned in my recent post about the DC Water Atlas, with some exploratory zooming and flying around the landscape looking at the creeks, wetlands and other area, you half expect to click and launch some next part of a non-linear exploration game.   The detail is amazing, and the juxtaposition between the very urban metropolis of New York City with this lush, pre-development landscape is striking both in plan, as well as some of the 3D renderings above.

You can then select any block and it will pop up a box that allows you to access lots of data underneath on a smaller level.

The interface provides layers of site specific data, and breaks down items like Wildlife, potential presence of Lenape (original native inhabitants, and Landscape Metrics. “Welcome to a wild place: this block in 1609! Through the tabs below, discover the wildlife, Native American use, and landscape factors of this block’s original ecology, as reconstructed by the Mannahatta Project. You can also explore the block today and sponsor the Mannahatta Project into the future.”

The Modern Day tab relates back to OASIS maps of the modern condition, making the connection of specific places easy to discern. “Landscapes never disappear, they just change. Click on the image below to see this block today through the New York City Open Accessible Space Information System (OASIS) and learn about open space and other contemporary environmental resources.”

For the beautiful simplicity of the map, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that this is dense with real data and models that attempt to provide a real viewpoint to what each parcel was like 400+ years in the past.  We discuss baseline conditions much in design, stormwater, ecology and habitat studies, and this level of evidence-based, site scale data is so important to decisonmaking not just in terms of former waterways, but in restoration and management of spaces.  This is summed up on the site:

“An important part of the Mannahatta Project is not leaving ecology in the past, but to appreciate it in our current times, to see how we can live in ways that are compatible with wildlife and wild places and that will sustain people and planet Earth for the next 400 years.”

Visonmaker.NYC – Of the more recent expansions of this is the creation of Visionmaker NYC, which “allows the public to develop and share climate-resilient and sustainable designs for Manhattan based on rapid model estimates of the water cycle, carbon cycle, biodiversity and population. Users can vary the ecosystems, lifestyles, and climate of the city in an effort to find and publish sustainable and resilient visions of the city of the future.”

Worthy of a full post on it’s own, the idea is to emphasize the link between the Mannahatta era of 1609, the current era four centuries later, around 2009, and a future world into the future another 400 years in 2049.  This gives a great opportunity to create a key linkages between historical work, current scenarios, and future conditions.

As they mention: “A vision is a representation of a part of New York City as you envison it. You select an area and can change the ecosystems – buildings, streets, and natural environments – as well as the climate and the lifestyle choices that people living in that area make.” and you can also view other published visions done by users of all ages.  The interface is similar to Welikia, as it allows an overlay of layers with varying transparency for comparison.

More on this as I dive in a bit, but you can also watch a more recent 2013 TEDxLongIslandCity video shows this tool in more detail:

The mapmaking is of course pretty awesome, and they keep posting new visualizations and updates, such as this 1609 topo map, posted via Twitter via @welikiaproject on the “Preurban (year 1609) topography and elevation of

There was also some great local quirky info, such as this map and historic photo showing perhaps the strangest remnant geological remnant in a city I’ve seen.  Via Twitter from December 2016, “29 Dec 2016  “Rocky outcrops in NYC, were mostly concentrated in Manhattan and the Bronx and composed of schist and gneiss.”

You can and should also follow Sanderson via @ewsanderson , continuing his work at the Wildlife Conservation Society and to see him giving talks and tours around the City.  A recent one mentioned that “After seven years of effort, he will share for the first time the digital elevation model of the pre-development topography his team has built, discuss why the climate and geology of the city together make our landscape conducive to streams and springs, give a borough by borough tour of ancient watersheds, and suggest how we can bring living water back to the stony city again.” 

Sounds great, and I wish sometimes to be a bit closer to be able to experience this around these parts.  Continuing to inspire beyond Mannahatta to the broader Welikia Project, Sanderson and all the crew that make it a reality is a great example anywhere in the world of what’s possible in tracing the threads between history and contemporary environmental issues.  If someone today gave me a chunk of money and said do this for Portland or Seattle or both (and honestly folks, we really should) I’d jump on it in a second.

A brief aside to contemplate the concept of hidden hydrology, both as a subject of study and as an agent for change.  While I’ve been inspired by the concept for some time, I’ve only recently tried to formalize this, collecting information and starting this blog in September 2016.  Call it my doctorate in Urban Studies that I never finished, happening over the web, with little to no outside supervision, mostly in my free time from 10pm to the early hours of the morning.

I get mixed reactions when I mention the project, spanning a sort of incredulous ‘Why?’ to an excited “Wow!” with all variations in between. This concept is indicative of the root of my own journey and sometimes my struggle, being simultaneously inspired while trying to figure out what to do with information.  On one hand, is just endlessly fascinating (others would agree), and my information gathering, generalist nature wants to find every detail there is to find. And while having an extensive collection of notes, images, maps and resources on my computer is satisfying in a way,  it does lack a certain sense of purpose.  On the other hand there’s sort of a perceptual disconnect with why any of this matters amidst the plethora of contemporary issues, and my productive landscape architect, designer, urbanist, cartogaphic, activist & ecological nature wants to connect this historical ecology to the greater issues of regenerative strategies of place.

Thus the tagline I originally came up with is a shorthand for both a duality that hints at both potentials, and I think still inspiring:

Exploring lost rivers, buried creeks & disappeared streams. Connecting historic ecology + the modern metropolis.

Sometimes it just takes a while to figure out what an end game can look like, and you have to dive in and see where it takes you.  I’m calling this, in the spirit of hydrological study, the Meanders, as I’ve titled this post, and it’s been fun to see it played out in presentations, dialogue, and writing with not really a set purpose or goal.  I’ve had in my mind, beyond the blog, a book or series of books, perhaps which could be historical, design or urbanism or something spanning all.  Also I have toyed with the idea of online atlas, an exploratory video game, a series of historical images superimposed on modern scenes, art installations, tours, and much more.  I’m still working on the specifics of where it may lead, but realize it’s not one destination, but many.

At a foundational level the study will focus on Seattle and Portland, as a locus of study and between the two, a venue for comparative analysis and places I live and know well (and have easy regular access to).  While both are Pacific Northwest cities that were founded around the same time (1850s), their evolution and histories diverged much due to geography, topography, and hydrology, with Portland built around rivers and Seattle shaped as a city tied to the oceans and lakes.  Beyond this obvious dichotomy, there are a number of differences which will be part of, and perhaps fundamental to, the study.  One of which is notably politics, which tends to shape place as much or more than those ‘natural’ forces, played.  Maps of the two show the unique differences, and the ‘blank’ slate to be filled with oh, so much potential.

PORTLAND

SEATTLE

Thus the core will expand around these cities, and include a continual focus on Explorations, walking, recording, and connected with the experiences of what is gone and what still exists.  The goal is to walk/map/explore every hidden stream in each city, and use this along with mapping and history to provide a documentation of hidden hydrology.  While the focus will be on these two cities, there is so much information to bring from the wider base of knowledge that allows the analysis to be well informed.  Seeing the immense depth and breadth of information that exists and all the forms it can take (which hopefully you’ve seen in these posts), there are ample bends and side channels for us to navigate – but the focus on these two places allows for focus energy for generation specific to place.  This hopefully alleviates the danger of just continually searching and compiling information without acting.

In that vein, as precedents, in the past year, I’ve posted summaries of many cities focusing on hidden hydrology, including posts that study the inner workings of cities like Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Washington DC, Philadelphia, San Francisco Bay Area, Rome, Vancouver, Toronto, as well as both Portland and Seattle. to varying degrees. These are the the dozen or so “core cities”, which, along with New York City and London you’ll see in a bit, which have the most fully expansive studies ongoing for hidden hydrology.  Each have activities and viewpoints that are specific to place, but all are tied together with connections between water, then and now.

Image of Rome – via Katherine Rinne, Aquae Urbis Romae

I’ve also touched on other areas around the globe, including Boston, Lexington, Munich, MontrealMexico City and Venice, and will continue to offer smaller snapshots of other communities, as there are literally hundreds of fascinating stories to tell.  These studies show a wide range of activities these projects take on, including art, tours, literature, advocacy, history, ecology and more, as well as the broad geographic reach of the concept of exploration, in its many forms, of hidden hydrology.

There will be many more posts to come come from all of this, but I wanted to add the two cities that have by far the most expansive and inspiring hidden hydrology efforts I’ve discovered to date: New York City and London.

New York City is one of the inspirations I’ve mentioned, with the Mannahatta project a lofty goal of mine to apply to my own home places, and the work done by others to document the hidden hydrology of the New York region is phenomenal.  I’m looking forward to sharing more of this.

Mannahatta Visualization

And London, perhaps more than any other city, has been so well documented in terms of hidden hydrology, with countless books, maps, ruminations, explorations and more, each with a unique viewpoint and much rich history to draw from.   Over the course of the next few weeks, I’m going to take multiple posts to sum this up with New York, as there’s a lot to cover.

A Balloon View of London, as seen from the north – via the British Library

Additionally, beyond continuing to document places as precedents, there are a bunch of fascinating topics which enrich these spatial stories, and also inform my own activities.  I’m constantly inspired by artists using hidden hydrology as a medium, so will continue to include more examples, both site specific, and including techniques around soundscapes.

Light Meander – River based sculpture in Nashville by Laura Haddad & Tom Drugan

The literary connections of historical waterways is worthy of discussion also, as another of the key inspirations come from both David James Duncan and Anne Whiston Spirn.  The connections to language and place names that span cultures, and a thorough acknowledgment of colonization and appropriation is an important aspect of any historical endeavor. Mapping as a subject is vital to this study, including historical ecology and methodologies for mapping that uses new technologies to connect old and new and display these connections in inspiring ways.

Rectangular world map from Fatimid treatise, Book of Curiosities of the Sciences and Marvels for the Eyes, copy of manuscript originally written in the first half of the 11th century

The ecological and the hydrological are at the root of rivers, creeks, streams and watershed, providing a context for understanding the past and the present in terms of something this is ever changing, blending soils, geology, climate, ecology and understanding of aquatic systems to infer the historic and investigate opportunities for historical baselines as a metric for regeneration.  This requires understanding the potential to restore, but also moving beyond ideas of daylighting as the only option we have, with a more nuanced and historically informed continuum which integrates, culture & art, ecology & habitat using design and science– restoring the key functions of urban streams in a form that evokes, mimics, and celebrates, but doesn’t rely on pure restoration for the original creeks.

Stories of place and process, maps and images, people and words, all aggregate, some sifting through and precipitating in eddies, others taken downstream by the force of the flow.  Then again, all this could change.  A meander overtopping its banks and connecting with another flow, carving out a new channel, or disconnecting and spinning idly in a lonely oxbow, driving via gravity in tension against rock, all the while creating life at its margins.  Not a bad metaphor for a creative process.

The flow may have some direction now, but the nature is still, always, to meander.

I stumbled on an interesting short article via Environment & Society via Twitter (@env_and_society) on some of the subterranean history of Munich, Germany.  The post “Munich from Below: What Happens Underground?” was developed by Lisa Bauer and Sonja Meinelt as part of the virtual exhibition “Ecopolis München: Environmental Histories of a City“.  The authors paint a common story of growing cities developing new infrastructure to meet demands and deal with growth, but also delve into some interesting concepts as well, ranging from ice, beer, agriculture, mushrooms, and a dead queen.

These stairs are the entrance to Munich’s underworld. They lead down to the masonry canal that was built in 1912. Photo by Lisa Bauer

The development and growth around the Isar River set the stage for disease.  “The city’s inhabitants dumped their garbage on their doorsteps or into the Isar. Only a few meters away, they extracted fresh water from wells. Germs and diseases spread ruthlessly, and epidemics of diseases like cholera and typhus killed thousands.”   The caption to the map below reads: “This map shows the course of Munich’s streams that are west of the Isar. The different colors represent whether a stream is on the surface or underground. The ones mapped in dark blue are below ground. The ones in light blue are above ground. And the ones mapped in purple are abandoned streams.”

As you see, the majority of streams are now underground. While the infrastructure improvements that utilized the underground systems were driven by water pollution, there are some interesting alternative uses for the subterranean landscape of the city, mentioned in the article.  Ice was critical for storage, and “In mild winters, ice for cooling beer cellars was even harvested from the Birnhorn glacier.  

Photo: Deutsches Museum

The ice was a vital ingredient in storage of beer, which along with clean water was critical to taste.  “The cooler the temperature at which the beer was stored, the longer its shelf life. The breweries built deep cellars at the gates of the city, in the sand and gravel pits on the slopes of the Isar. Cooling methods improved steadily. As of 1830, in addition to implementing ventilation systems, breweries also began to use natural ice in their storage cellars. The quality, reputation, and economic success of Munich beer became better and better.”

Photo: Deutsches Museum

With beer cellars, comes a perfect spot for a cool place to drink beer as well, such as the Augustiner beer cellar seen below:

Photo: Augustiner Keller

Few cellars remain, as mentioned:  “The majority of Munich’s beer cellars no longer exist today. After serving as bomb shelters in the Second World War, many were destroyed, demolished, or built over. The beer cellars have since been largely forgotten. Only here and there are they still around, hidden, mostly inaccessible—deep below the cellars of buildings.”

There were some interesting uses in that interim period, especially in the war, where “mushrooms were grown underground in an old rail tunnel beneath Goetheplatz. Today the U3/6 line runs through the “mushroom tunnel,” which was built as a section of Munich’s first subway line.”  The below image is from World War II, where “…the subway shaft served as an air-raid shelter, and afterwards as a place for cultivating luxury food: button mushrooms. However, invasive ground water ended mushroom cultivation.”

Photo: Stadtarchiv München

The underground also was developed to manage runoff, as previous mentioned. “To ensure that wastewater does not flow into the Isar, enormous subterranean basins store excess water.”  The image in the header, shows one of these, and below shows “The largest rainwater-retention basin in Europe (90,000 meters) is located below Hirschgarten…”

Photo: Lisa Bauer

Beyond the underground storage tanks, the aforementioned sewers were build come with an interesting tale.  The impetus for the sewerage is a common theme, to combat waterborne disease. This case was a bit different, as discussed in “The Queen’s Death Ensures Clean Water“:

“Max von Pettenkofer brought about a change in Munich’s cleanliness. The doctor found that the recurring cholera outbreaks could be traced back to unhygienic conditions. In order to counteract the causes of the epidemics, he encouraged the idea of a modern sewage system with a waste transport system and the introduction of flush toilets. He also pushed for a supply of drinking water from the Mangfall valley in the Alpine Foreland. He initially encountered strong resistance. The government took action only after the death of Queen Therese of Bavaria. In 1854 she became a victim, along with another 2,935 Munich residents, of a cholera outbreak.”

Photo: Lisa Bauer

Thus Munich built the modern system, per the map above.  The image above shows this “…masonry canal was built in 1912. Even today it drains wastewater from surrounding houses.”

The hidden hydrology of any city starts to become similar when you start looking at how cities have developed, development pressures, and the inevitable ‘modernization’ by burying of surface waters into underground systems. The thread that exists in modern urban areas around the globe, concurrent with the Industrial Era in the 1850s to 1900s, is telling as within a short timeframe of a century, most world cities will have undergone a massive reconfiguration from surface to subsurface water.  Not to say Munich is special in this case, just brings up the point that all stories lead to a similar conclusion. Worthy of some comparative exploration.

From this inquiry also emerges some interesting stories of how subterranean spaces have been used, re-purposed, and are woven in the histories of places and their people.


Citation:  Bauer, Lisa, and Sonja Meinelt. “Munich from Below.” In “Ecopolis München,” edited by L. Sasha Gora. Environment & Society Portal, Virtual Exhibitions 2017, no. 2. Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society. http://www.environmentandsociety.org/node/8052.

 

[1917]
It was great see, via Twitter, local resource @HistoryLink post “100 years ago today, Thomas Phelps’s 1856 map of Seattle was published in the Town Crier”.  I saw the post today, so I’m a day late, but the Phelps map is one of those fascinating documents that highlights the historical origins of Seattle and intrigues because it so far removed from want exists today.  The article about the map, website, penned by David B. Williams, mentions the map’s original publication on December 15, 1917 as part of the article in the Town Crier  (map shown to the left). The article was about  “Seattle’s First Taste of Warfare”, found via the Seattle Public Library which outlines an early battle between new settlers and the original residents of Seattle.  The full page shows the map in the center (quality of the online version is a bit fuzzy as well – click to enlarge)

The history is summed as such by Williams via HistoryLink.org:

“Phelps’s map depicts what has become known as the Battle of Seattle, when Native Americans battled settlers and the Decatur’s crew on January 26, 1856. The death toll for the skirmish, which ended at 10 p.m., was two settlers and an unknown number of Indians. The map provides what appears to be an accurate depiction of the city on that day, although there is one notable mistake. The settlement’s northern blockhouse, or fort, is in the wrong location; it should be two blocks south, at what is now Cherry Street. (Phelps also shows a southern blockhouse, which was not built until two weeks or so after the battle.) The only other map to depict Seattle around the time of the battle is a U.S. Coast Survey map of “Duwamish Bay, W.T.” Published in 1854, it shows a roughly similar landscape and distribution of buildings.”

[1908]
A known reprint appeared inr Arthur Denny’s book “Pioneer Days on the Puget Sound”, originally published in a 1888, this map appearing in a reprint from 1908 (but also great is to see the book available as a Third Place Books Rediscovery Edition here).  A small version of the map of it from HistoryLink.org (see below for a larger, adapted similar version), with caption from Williams: “1856 map of Seattle by Thomas Phelps of USS Decatur, as published in Arthur Denny’s Pioneer Days on Puget Sound with later street grid superimposed, 1908”

Many historical maps just exist as a singular object to depict a place in a point in time.  Phelps’ map seems to exist along a continuum from it’s original sketch of which there is no record, to various prints, updates, hybrids, and transformations over the span of decades, all of which are adaptations of events that had happened some half-century or more in the past. As Williams mentioned separately in a blog post, on his GeologyWriter site about the map:  “Many, many editions of the map have been produced.”  

The other version that has a fixed date, and mostly commonly used as I’ve seen it, is that redrawn version by Clarence Bagley from 1930, recreating the “1856 map of Seattle by Thomas Phelps of USS Decatur, enlarged and revised.”  The 1930 version shows the “Officers of the Sloop of War Decatur”, and a more extensive street grid, and is signed by Bagley.  (This image is from Pinterest here as finding a good digital original with source is tough)  There’s also a sepia version around cropped with tape marks and a big seattlepi.com watermark, but the same map.

[1930]
As Williams outlines the unknowns and uncertain history of the map deftly in his article, he mentions “We do not know why Bagley produced this map, who he produced it for, or how he distributed it. Nor is an original of it known to exist. Copies are found in the holdings of Seattle Public Library and University of Washington Special Collections. Nor is it known how Bagley acquired a copy of the Phelps map. Perhaps he could have acquired it from whoever supplied the map to Alice Harriman, who published it in her 1908 reprint of Arthur Denny’s Pioneer Days. Bagley had originally published Pioneer Days, in 1888, but that edition did not include the Phelps map. Harriman did consult with Bagley so he may have had access to an original, though it is unclear why Bagley would wait until 1930 to produce his edition of the map.”

The provenance of others is a question, below is one of those alternative versions that just includes some format changes but unknown date, and stripped of the additional information added in 1930.  This larger version via DorpatSherrardLomont that also points out one flaw in the original, as included the annotation: “Phelps map of Seattle. He by now famously misplaced the blockhouse one block too far north of its real location on a knoll at the waterfront foot of Cherry Street.”

The map shown below is titled ‘Map of the Attack on Seattle’, which alludes the the original story.  In this case it is from Access Genelology site for the Washington Indian Wars, 1855-1856.  It looks like a version of the original that uses the same graphic style, in a sepia tone that cleans up the original map with updated fonts, and the titleblock shifting to the upper right (not sure about date of this one)

An alternate version that David Williams has on his blog, and as he mentions, “This is one of the more unusual. It is owned by the University of Washington Special Collections. I have no idea where it was printed or who the engravers were.” adding, that there were “…several unusual aspects.  1. Addition of “hostile” to Hills & Woods thronged with 2. Addition of “skidroad” to Lake Trail & Skidroad 3. Labels Thomas Phelps as a Lieutenant instead of Commander” ( date unknown)

This expanded version from DorpatSherrodLomond locates the original map within the larger grid of streets and pioneer claims, using the original graphic style as published in Denny’s book.

I’m sure it’s not uncommon, but it’s one of the interesting aspects of the map, as summarized, that it is not just a snapshot  of an event in a place, but that it has yielded lots questions about copyright in later years between those wishing to use the map for publication.  Williams concludes: “For such a famous map, there are many unanswered questions: When exactly did Phelps draw the original? Does an original exist?”

And for me, when looking at a map that provides a foundation for a place, the questions are both fascinating and make one questions the fidelity of memory, production, reproduction and tracings. Whole explicit or accidental it shows the agendas (and talents or lack thereof) of the mapmakers.  The story of the Phelps map is a crucial one for Seattle history and hidden hydrology, and it does offer some context for early shoreline and land fill to office later. While we’d like highly accurate and globally positioned map or story, often reality is that we get a different, more subjective and fluid tale. And as it is a touchstone to what ends up being a crazy development of the City of Seattle, perhaps a little mystery isn’t such a bad thing.


Original text quotes from “Thomas Phelps’s 1856 map of Seattle is published in the Town Crier on December 15, 1917″ via HistoryLink.org, by David B. Williams, originally published 3/24/2015.  Maps are credited to other sources because they are so incredibly small on the HistoryLink.org site to even be legible (one of my few pet peeves with an otherwise amazing resource).

David’s site Geology Writer also has more history, and tons of great info on Seattle History, by Paul Dorpat, Jean Sherrard, and Bérangère Lomont on the DorpatSherrardLomont site.