film

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.

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

As we’ve seen in the Welikia Project and the book Hidden Waters of NYC there’s multiple ways to approach the investigation and documentation of hidden hydrology in the same city.  Next is a hybrid photography, infrastructure history and adventurous drainer in the form of Steve Duncan.  Since the 2010s, he’s been featured often, the theme similar to these stories from NPR “Into The Tunnels: Exploring The Underside Of NYC” as well as the New York Times (here “The Wilderness Below Your Feet” with Norwegian explorer Erling Kagge).

Duncan, here smiling after the third night camping underground, is a graduate of Columbia University and is working on his doctorate in urban history at the University of California. via NPR

His photography is pretty stunning, (links to the original photography site seem down, but you can buy a print here) and more than a few articles feature his explorations and work, including this New York/London feature in the Daily Mail, “A tale of two underground cities: Urban explorer’s stunning photographs of the subways and sewers of New York and London”  Here’s Duncan at work:

His photos are featured as well in National Geographic “11 Rivers Forced Underground” which include New York as well as other cities around the world.  A few of the shots:

Sunswick Creek, New York City (Photo by Duncan)
Tibbets Brook, New York City (Photo by Duncan)
River Sheaf – Sheffield, England – Photo by Duncan)

My favorite below as the idea of canoeing this hidden streams is a bucket list dream for me.  This one is of the Park River in Hartford Connecticut.  From the NatGeo article: “Today, a few intrepid urban explorers paddle canoes down the buried river. John Kulick of Huck Finn Adventures, who has guided float trips through the subterranean section, told the New York Times he has seen eels, carp, and stripers in the dark water. Kulick joked, perhaps at least half seriously, that a burst of water gurgled into the river because “someone flushed a toilet.”

Park River, Hartford Connecticut (Photo by Duncan)

The site Watercourses provides the more academic side of this inquiry, dating back to 2008-2010 with a goal of “Looking for the lost streams, kills, rivers, brooks, ponds, lakes, burns, brakes, and springs of New York City.” As much of it isn’t regularly maintained, it’s still great repository of info, maps, photos, and lots of good links.  Organized into regions and sites, with a sidebar around “Named Streams, Ponds, & Springs” it’s a wealth of info to dig into and some great, NY specific info.  As mentioned in the introduction:

“Almost all of the the streams, ponds, swamps, tidal inlets, flood plains, springs, etc that once dotted the fertile land seem, at first glance, to have disappeared underneath the tide of New York City’s urbanization. This is not completely true. In many cases, the city retains the imprint of these features; in the shape of a road, for example, like Water Street in lower Manhattan, that used to follow the edge of a stream or river; or sometimes just in the name of a neighborhood or street.”

For instance, one of the posts on Minetta Brook yields a snip from the Viele Water Map (more on this in an upcoming post) showing the course:

Plus this great 1901 article from the NY Times on excavating the creek.

Undercity is the other side/site of Duncan with posts ranging from 1999 through a sporadic fits and an end in 2015 with a focus on the “Guerrilla History & Urban Exploration” side of things.  These posts offer a great array of topics, like how 9/11 impacted urban exploration, the lives of the Mole people, and even a blurb in the difficult to reproduce on black pages local NW Design mag Arcade.

Like many websites of a certain vintage, there’s plenty of broken links (unfortunately the Explorations tab being one of them) but still lots of great info – also a gruesome shot of Duncan’s hand and after story when he slipped and sliced it open during one of his explorations.  Sifting through the links, there are some really hidden gems, inlcuding a book link I’d not seen before for New York Underground: Anatomy of a City, and some great posts about England and Rome around March 2009.

My hands down favorite is this link to a Life Magazine story from November 7, 1949 on ‘Underground New York’, which featured some amazing cutaway images like this one on the complexity of subsurface infrastructure:

For some additional reading by Duncan himself, there’s a thoughtful essay on Narrative.ly from 2012 “An underground explorer discovers his city’s lost lifeblood” in which he discusses the importance of the historic streams in New York, their eventual destruction:

“With further development came the burial of Tibbetts Brook, and many of the other streams. In some cases, putting them underground was merely a way to create more buildable land above. In others, the streams that once supplied drinking water or fish were converted into sewers and drains. Today, the lineage of many of the major sewer lines in New York City can be traced back to streams and rivers that flowed unfettered for centuries and even millennia before the city matured around them. Today, their past is all but forgotten.”

He continues the essays through some exploration of Tibbetts Brook, and discussion of the Canal Street sewer, New York City’s first, discussing many of the creeks, through actually following their current form. Many of them as he mentions, are too small to explore underground, being only a few feet wide, but “it is impossible to completely parse out the old “natural” Minetta Brook, or the Tibbetts or the Sawmill, from the urban landscape and sprawl of the modern-day “Big Apple”—but that doesn’t mean they’re gone. Far from it.” 

There’s also a great video by filmmaker Andrew Wonder from 2010 called UNDERCITY which follows Duncan underground.

UNDERCITY from Andrew Wonder on Vimeo.

Some great background on a pioneer in the urDuncan on Twitter @undercitysteve where he’s giving tours around the city.  He’s also on FB, which i am not but probably easy to find via a search. There’s a link on Twitter to another site undercity.org but it wasn’t working for me.


HEADER IMAGE:  “A self-portrait taken by Steve Duncan in New York City’s Croton Aqueduct, 2006” Photo By Steve Duncan, via NPR

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

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

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

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

 

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

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


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

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

p9784174_p_v8_aaI finally had a chance to view the Lost Rivers documentary thanks to a co-worker picking up a copy of the DVD.  The log line sums it up: “Once upon a time, in almost every city, many rivers flowed. Why did they disappear? How? And could we see them again? This documentary tries to find answers by meeting visionary urban thinkers, activists and artists from around the world.”

The films highlight a bit of the multifarious of the hidden hydrology paradigm, that of the explorers, or ‘drainers’ that crawl through pipes in search of photos, and adventure, cities daylighting streams for economic development, urban archeologists with a penchant for maps and popping manhole covers, and designers proposing integrated strategies for flood control and stormwater management.  The common thread of these stories, including Montreal and Toronto in Toronto, European examples in London,  Brescia, Italy, and some daylighting projects in both Seoul, South Korea and Yonkers, New York.

“We built our cities on the shores of rivers.  Over time we pushed rivers away, out of sight and out of reach.  But they’re still there.  Hidden, everywhere. And around the world city dwellers are on a quest to reconnect to this lost nature.”

We first meet the explorers, or “drainers”, as they are referenced by Danielle Plamondon, one of these explorers that regularly appears throughout the documentary. All around the world folks don hip waders and backpacks of gear, then crawl, rappel, and slog through sewers.  The reasons are varied, some with a bent for history, others for the joy of revealing that which is hidden.  The illegality of it is also a draw, moving into these as she mentions in the beginning, of people who know what she does, “They don’t realize how forbidden it is.”

stpierretunnel_montreal

I had the distinct feeling that the adventure/illegal paradigm might be the only draw, and wondered, beyond the thrill, what the point of these explorations would be.  Having traced a few creeks, it’s been many years since the desire to crawl through pipes passed my mind, although I have to admit this piqued my curiosity for sure.  One creative output was photography of the tunnels – which is excellent and perhaps the only view most people will have of these places.  Lost Rivers includes the work of Andrew Emond, exploring Montreal’s Saint Pierre River, which starts as a trickle near a golf course and leads to a subterranean labyrinth.  His photographs are pretty amazing, and the documentary features some bonus tracks with more of his art installations.

stpierre_photograph

Beyond the purely adventuresome, the film does delve into the history to a degree, and what better city to do this than London, birthplace of the Industrial Revolution.  The rapid development of the city meant that London was one of the first.  As described by Tom Bolton, author of London’s Lost Rivers, there are 15-20 buried rivers that used to flow on the surface into the Thames, with around two-thirds of the original tributaries either partially or completely buried.

london_map

The rivers grew cities, providing hydropower for mills, inputs for tanneries and manufacturing, clean drinking water for residents, all were the engine of industrial development.  The same processes which grew cities also  led to the downfall of these waterways, with population growth these creeks and rivers became polluted and often deadly.  The ‘Great Stink‘ in London in 1858 caused the city to virtually shut down due to smells, and rampant cholera, which quickly led to the modernization and sanitation of these creeks underground in sewers.

londonsewerconstruction

This happened in virtually every city in various forms and expresses itself in many ways today, including basement flooding or sewer backups, or even sinking houses, such as those in Toronto that are located atop the former route of Garrison Creek.

toronto_map

Cities that used creeks to drive industrialization were also quick to close them up for progress.  Yonkers, New York took the working Saw Mill River, which is a tributary of the Hudson River, and installed a flume, which was buried under a parking lot.  As seen in the photos below, the river was channelized, and then eventually capped and filled, a fate that tens of thousands of urban creeks fell to in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

sawmill_river

sawmill_river_cap

Driven by a need for economic development to revitalize downtown, the daylighting of the Saw Mill River was seen not just as an ecological plus, but as an economic driver.  Ninety years after it was capped, and at considerable cost, the restoration of the river has restored vitality to a depressed downtown core.

sawmill_river_daylighted

The efforts have also been coupled with habitat plans, and followed by environmental education of school kids, who are helping study the ecological impacts of the restoration, particularly on creating new habitat for the American Eel.

sawmill_river_education

London also has taken an active approach to using the routes of lost rivers to aid in resilience to flood control, which has been estimated to potentially cost billions.  The River Quaggy, which had been culverted for over 100 years, and because a testing ground for a green approach to flood protection.  By removing concrete, daylighting creeks, and using open space, ecologists were able to restore wetland vegetation in Sudcliff Park, creating an urban natural reserve that provides protection from flood waters now and into the future.  An additional 15 kilometers of river restoration is planned in the future.

riverquaggy_london_daylighted

The film also points to some of the misses, such as the strategies brought forth by designers in Toronto, even back in the mid 1990s, to utilize open space of the former Garrison Creek basin for a similar type of flood control.  Unfortunately, what could have been a new nature-based paradigm was not implemented, the city choosing to use more technological engineering approaches such as storage tunnels.

I really appreciated learning about the Brescia Underground, a group of Italian urban drainers that were given the official status as a historical society, where they lead tours of underground rivers and continue to explore the unique history of their place, including Roman-era marble bridges built almost 1000 years ago.

brescia_sewer

The public nature of their tours is impressive, not just walking along the surface but leading the public down into the guts of the city.  As one of the explorers mentions, “in every city we dream of doing this.”

brescia_photo

The final project discussed is one known to many, the amazing and controversial Cheonggyecheon River in Seoul, South Korea.  In addition to finally learning how to pronounce the name, it was interesting to learn more about the additional history of this project, which removed an urban elevated highway and restored six kilometers of river to the urban center.

cheonggyecheon_river_seoulThe newly restored river has had over 123 million visitors, and is focused both as an ecological and cultural system.  This is not however, without some costs to both.  In the process of removing the highway and restoring the river, a large number of merchants were displaced, taking a social and economic toll, as they were relocated from their lucrative high-traffic locations to a new spot where they now struggle to make ends meet.  In addition, the ecology of the site is artificial, due to the nature of the hydrology, the water needs to be continually recirculated through the system, with over 100 million cubic meters of water per day pumped from the Han River, which expends enormous amounts of electricity.  As mentioned in the film, “authenticity and illusion may be blurred, but people are drawn to it.”

cheonggyecheon_river_seoul2
The artificiality of the system and displacement aside, there were some appreciable benefits beyond the human.  The diversity of wildlife has been documented, and over 800 new species have been welcomed back into this urban ecosystem, which is impressive.  The remnants of the highway structures were a nice touch as well, sort of a post-apocalyptic homage to the new, novel ecosystem created from the detritus of the past.

cheonggyecheon_river_seoul_remnants

The conundrum of pure natural systems versus pumping and manipulation of hydrological systems is evident in all of these projects, as we will talk often in hidden hydrology, there is a continuum that spans from the abstract and artistic to weaving through the designed and engineered to the opposite poles of the true ecological and hydrological restoration.  There’s no perfect answer, between painting a blue line on the surface to painstakingly mimicking the natural reference ecology – all are valid approaches.

This sort of topic lends itself to multiple types of media, and a documentary offers a unique way to delve into the experiential qualities of lost rivers, especially urban explorations and the sights and sounds of nature buried and also that restored.  The structure of the film jumped back and forth between multiple narratives, which inevitably .  And while there was an ecological narrative and implications of resilience and climate change, these themes were not always evident, which had the good side of not seeming preachy, but also made the film seem to lack some substance and impact about the potential.  It didn’t try to gloss over some of the critical elements, like the failure of plans in Toronto, and some of the artificiality and social impact in Seoul,

Because the film was released a few years ago so screenings are a bit scarce, but you can purchase the DVD here.  It is also available for academic use so set up a screening at your school… its worth a look.

Now, where’s a big pipe I can crawl into around here… ?

# All images are screen grabs from the documentary, copyright to the makers, unless otherwise noted.

 

 

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