I’ve been inspired by the work many others have done to capture the qualities of coverage of waterways at national scale both in the US and the UK, and beyond the mapping, appreciate their investigations into the unique distribution of place names, or toponyms.  The language of the waterways informs more local hidden hydrology endeavors, and understanding regional vernacular variations provides a snapshot into our varied relationships with water.  While a glance at the Pacific Northwest via these other maps shows that the predominant name for waterways is probably going to be either creek or river, I wanted to dive a bit deeper to see what other names are used to denote waterways.  To accomplish this, I spent some quality time with the USGS National Hydrography Dataset (NHD) to unlock a bit of the secrets of regional variations.

For starters, the NHD is an amazing resource of information, pulling together a comprehensive collection of data on flowlines, watershed basins, and more and the ability to get data from a variety of formats for small to large basins and states.  From their site, the purpose of the data is to: “define the spatial locations of surface waters. The NHD contains features such as lakes, ponds, streams, rivers, canals, dams, and stream gages, in a relational database model system (RDBMS). These data are designed to be used in general mapping and in the analysis of surface water systems.”  The first steps are a bit daunting, as the State of Washington included data with over 1.3 million flowlines, seen below in aggregate. The flowlines aren’t any one single waterway, but are the individual segments that make up each creek.

While the data preserves local basins shapes by sprawling outside state lines, I wanted to make this unique to Washington, so needed to clip it to the state boundary.  This ended up being a bit of a task for my rather slow computer to crank out the clipping, so I had to think of some alternatives to simplify the dataset.  Interestingly enough, over 80 percent of the flowlines (around 1.1 million of them) are unnamed, and while I’m sure are perfectly lovely bits of creek and river, they don’t help in our purpose in terms of deriving place names.  Eliminating them also serves the dual benefit of reducing the size of our working dataset quite a bit.  After trimming to the state boundaries, we ended up with a nice workable set of around 170,000 flowlines that have names, seen below.

Per the NHD FAQ page, “Many features also are labeled with the geographic name of the feature, such as the Ohio River. The feature names must be approved by the Board of Geographic Names (BGN) in order to qualify for inclusion in the NHD.”  More on the BGN and the wonderful assortment of place names that exist in these lists beyond their descriptor (which is perhaps the fuller idea of toponyms), in this case we break down the list and see what comes to the top.   Not surprising, but the use of the terms Creek and River dominate the landscape of Washington, accounting for 98% of all named flowlines.

Of the totals, creeks truly dominate, with around a 75% chance that a trickle of water in the state will be referred to as a creek.  The larger, less numerous rivers make up 23% of all flowlines, and the map above paints a wonderful portrait of the density of waters.  Separated out by type, you see the branched structures of trunk and stem that pumps water through most of the mountainous west side of the state, with the larger, drier plains to the east more open.  All total the combined length of these equals over 30,000 linear miles.

1. CREEKS

2. RIVERS

So we live in a creek and river area of the world.  Amidst these dominating toponyms are a distributed layer of types of flowlines that make up the remainder of the story of Washington, that final 2 percent, emphasized in a darker blue below.

The secondary naming of these includes the most common, isolated and color coded, with a legend denoting the eight most common alternative flowline names.

The relative percentage as a portion of that slim 2% of state flowlines, include:

  1. Slough (30%)
  2. Fork (16%)
  3. Canal (16%)
  4. Ditch (9%)
  5. Wasteway (4%)
  6. Branch (4%)
  7. Run (4%)
  8. Stream (3%)

The remaining 14% are composed of small portions that include Lateral, Brook, Drain, Slu (a variation of Slough), Gulch, Channel, Siphon and it’s alternative spelling Syphon, Washout, Waterway, Swale, Glade, Pass, Gate, and Range.  Many of these as we see, are geographically located towards the center of the state where agricultural landscape has created larger modifications and creation of waterways (described in the NHD data under the names like Artificial Path, Canal Ditch, and Connector).  There’s a split between more traditional waterway name variations (i.e. Slough, Fork, Branch, Run, Stream) and those that mostly utilitarian, capturing the poetry of industrialization (i.e. Wasteway, Ditch, Canal, Siphon, Lateral).  Removing the background landform, you see the composite of the different stream types as a whole, with creek/river in blue and the remainder by color.

For a more local view, the NHD data is a bit less sparse, not capturing the same amount of complexity is smaller urban waterways, plus without the other water bodies like lakes the geography seems somewhat off.  The purple to the west in the Olympic Pennisula shows a density of flowlines referred to as streams, and the darker red denotes a number of local sloughs that exist in local river systems.  It’s harder to see, but you can catch the Ship Canal in this group, and the slightly lighter red fork in the center is the infamous Duwamish Waterway, the lower stretch that runs through Seattle and ‘lost’ its designation as a river – interestingly enough it’s the only flowline in the state with that moniker.

I was expecting the dominance of creeks and rivers in the nomenclature, but was also really surprised that these combined to make up so many of the collective flowlines. Perhaps early settlers and place-namers lacking a bit of creativity.  It was also a good surprise to find a wealth of other place names in Washington, albeit many used to describe man-made features, including the most poetic name of wasteway, but enough fun to find an occasional branch, fork, brook, and run, which are more common elsewhere in the United States, per the other US maps.

These are pretty basic graphics exported from GIS just to give a feel for the data, so I’d like to play around more with representation, perhaps some sort of heatmap.  Also I’m eyeing Oregon for a comparison, and maybe wanting to dive into the waterbodies as well beyond linear flowlines, so more fun to come.  Who knows, an atlas of the whole country with a top ten of their most common names of each state.  Or maybe not…


HEADER:  Excerpt of River and Stream Composite Map – data from ESRI, NOAA, USGS – Mapping by Jason King – (all maps in post same attribution, © Jason King, Hidden Hydrology, 2018)

The exploration of hidden hydrology takes many forms. While often focusing on the visual through maps and illustrations, and the verbal, through documents and texts, there’s a range of other sensory experiences that connect lost rivers and buried creeks to our modern life.

It is vital to connect the lost experiences with actual places, if only help imagine what was there previously, as well as to, surprisingly, find the traces and fragments of the palimpsest that remains after decades or even centuries of erasure. Beyond the idea of just being mere ground-truthing as a method of connecting the maps and texts to actual places, is the ability to engage other senses of touch, hearing, and  We engage and use our brains differently when we’re outdoors versus indoors, as a recent study showed that “…brain activity associated with sensing and perceiving information was different when outdoors, which may indicate that the brain is compensating for environmental distractions.” 

At the root of this is physically experiencing spaces through exploration and discovery. While we will dive into the more specific literature and potential for walking/flâneury in this context of exploration that encompasses our collective sensory experience, for now we will focus on some relevant overlapping themes in terms of specific focused sensing in a spatial frame – specifically soundscapes and smellscapes.  Some, but not all of these fit exactly in the tighter sphere of hidden hydrology, however all do provide valid paths of inquiry that could be directly applied to increasing our understanding and engagement with these buried, disappeared, worlds.

As with all of these explorations, this quickly expanded beyond one post, so I’m focusing first on the concept of smell – and will follow up subsequently with elaboration on other sensory subjects.

Smellscapes

The sounds and smells of water are powerful sensory experiences, which can evoke a range of emotions, hint of hidden landscapes, confront and astound then sooth and delight.  There’s also a strong historical element, outlined beautifully in this CityLab article ‘Sense and the City‘, which discusses Carolyn Purnell’s book ‘The Sensational Past: How the Enlightenment Changed the Way We Use Our Senses’.  in which she shows through explorations of noise, smell, and more over the span of history, “….while our bodies may not change dramatically, the way we think about the senses and put them to use has been rather different over the ages.” 

It is no accident that the events around what led to the massive reconfiguration of London through the burial of rivers into pipes is known as the ‘Great Stink‘, driven by growing water pollution and hot weather which  causing a mass exodus due to the notion that the smells could transmit disease, which was coupled with recent cholera outbreaks.  As mentioned in the Wikipedia article “The problem had been mounting for some years, with an ageing and inadequate sewer system that emptied directly into the Thames. The miasma from the effluent was thought to transmit contagious diseases, and three outbreaks of cholera prior to the Great Stink were blamed on the ongoing problems with the river.”  The scientist Michael Faraday, who investigated and wrote a letter on the poor conditions of the Thames, is depicted in this Punch Cartoon from 1855 holding his nose and “…giving his card to Father Thames”, commenting on Faraday gauging the river’s “degree of opacity”

And while access to land and reduction of negative impact so the irony of much urban modernization of rivers by burying them was often driven by smells, fear of pollution via miasma, or legitimate issues with outbreaks like cholera, the so called “Monster Soup” via the 1828 image by William Health depicting the water of the Thames.

Expanding that notion, I recall this map, via CityLab, of the ‘Stench Map” from the “Charles F. Chandler Papers,” Columbia University Rare Books and Manuscript Library, which was described as a “Map Showing Location of Odor Producing Industries of New York and Brooklyn, circa 1870”

They quote Virginia Tech historian Melanie Kiechle and author of the recent book “Smell Detectives“, who is quoted in the article about the fascination and challenge of spatially representing sensory data: “Trying to show smells, which are not concrete—they’re invisible, they’re ephemeral, they’re always changing…”.  She also authored this paper in Journal of Urban History called ‘Navigating by Nose: Fresh Air, Stench Nuisance, and the Urban Environment, 1840–1880” [paywalled] where she mentions “City dwellers used their understanding of stench nuisance as detrimental to health to construct smellscapes or olfactory maps of New York City. Such maps identified health threats and guided movements through or out of the city.” 

And another, referenced in this Instagram from the NY Public Library Map Division, entitled “Going the whole hog. The odiferous Midtown West in 1865”, which shows this excerpt from a map “Region of Bone Boiling and Swill-Milk Nuisances” found in “Report of the Council of hygiene and public health of the Citizens’ Association of New York upon the sanitary condition of the city” published by The Citizens’ Association of New York. Council of Hygiene and Public Health in 1865″

The short of it was, in the mid 19th Century, cities were often foul and disgusting places, and, if you want a more thorough and frightening description of the above, visit CityLab’s post “The Sanitary Nightmare of Hell’s Kitchen in 1860s New York”  which describes conditions that inevitably existed throughout many cities at the time.  For rivers, this meant modernization, none as famous as the sewerization of London by Joseph Bazalgette, which tackled the issues of urban pollution and flooding in the mid to late 1800s, while also opening up room for development.

This approach served as a model for many areas around the world confronting similar issues, and serves as perhaps the greatest driver of buried creeks and hidden hydrology in modern cities.  Not solely based on smell, but it was definitely a factor.  In entombing these rivers, we cut off the bad but also vacated the positive associations of the smell of water that couple nostalgia via memory. Good and bad, the evocation of smells of water – ocean funk, tidal salt/fresh water mixing, freshness of a bubbling creek, wet grass, and all things in between have strong impacts on our experiences.  One of these concepts mentioned recently in writings I recall, including both a chapter in Cynthia Barnett’s book “Rain: A Natural and Cultural History“, and featured as Robert Macfarlane’s word of the day, is the concept of “petrichor,” which is much more complex but can be simplified as the smell air before, or after rain, which is so evocative as to support an entire industry, outlined in detail in an Atlantic article by Barnett “Making Perfume from the Rain“.

The role smell plays in our experience and enjoyment of places is often not discussed specifically, beyond nuisances, so it is heartening to see artists, designers, and planners taking on this specific area for study.  We will expand more on the water-specific aspects of this in the future, but for now, a great intro is this wonderful meditation on ‘The Conservation of Smellscapes” from the blog Thinking like a Human, which captures the idea better than I, and which also references a couple of the smellscape pioneers which we will discuss in more length below.

Kate McLean

Anyone interesting in the topic of smellscapes has inevitably come across the amazing work of Kate McLean, especially with recent write-ups in Atlas Obscura, The New Yorker, BBC News, and  Co.Design to name a few.  McLean is an artist and designer and current PhD candidate who focuses on sensory research which is found at her site Sensory Maps. and you can follower her as well on her Twitter account @katemclean.  In her websites explanatory text, she mentions the techniques and use of the visual to represent the sensory: “The tools of my trade include: individual group smellwalks, individual smellwalks (the “smellfie”), smell sketching, collaborative smellwalks, graphic design, motion graphics, smell generation and smell diffusion, all united by mapmaking” 

A 2015 story on “Mapping Your City’s Smells” discusses some of her work, specifically for London, where they developed a ‘dictionary’ of urban smells, “…including less pleasant odors (“exhaust,” “manure,” “trash,” “putrid,” and “vomit” among them) and downright lovely-sounding ones (“lavender,” “fruity,” “BBQ,” and “baked,” for example).”  An aroma wheel developed by the team, captures the complexity of these smells.

From this, they used words in geotagged social media posts to capture a spatial picture of these elements, then mapped them based on concentrations in a Pollock-esque composition showing bad smells along red tones and nature smells in greens.  As noted:  “The researchers envision these maps being used in a variety of ways. Urban planners, they suggest, can use them to figure out which areas of the city smell the worst—and then consider using air-flow manipulation, green spaces, and pedestrian-friendly streets to change them. Maybe computer scientists will one day create a wayfinding app that gives users the most pleasant-smelling path to their destination. Or maybe city officials will be inspired to use social media data to more consistently monitor how their residents are being affected by smells—and by the pollution that creates it.”

An online map of this data also exists from McLeans collaborators Daniele Quercia, Rossano Schifanella, and Luca Maria Aiello, under the auspices of goodCitylife.

Smelly Maps provides an interactive version of the data for London, with some additional Info about this: “Think about your nose. Now think about big data. You probably didn’t realize it, but your nose is a big data machine. Humans are able to potentially discriminate more than thousands different odors. On one hand, we have our big data nose; on the other hand, we have city officials and urban planners who deal only with the management of less than ten bad odors out of a trillion. Why this negative and oversimplified perspective?  Smell is simply hard to measure.  SmellyMaps have recently proposed a new way of capturing the entire urban smellscape from social media data (i.e., tags on Flickr pictures or tweets). Cities are victims of a discipline’s negative perspective, only bad odors have been considered. The SmellyMaps project aims at disrupting this negative view and, as a consequence, being able to celebrate the complex smells of our cities.”  

Zooming in, you get a breakdown on the relative smell density and dominant smell in a dashboard style.

On the interactive side, a smellwalk project from 2014 for Amsterdam gives a good overview of the process, where multiple people walk and record information, with “Over 650 smells were detected by 44 people undertaking 10 smellwalks over a period of 4 days in April 2013. Based on written descriptions from the smellwalkers, 50 broad categories were identified. Both frequently-mentioned and curious smells feature on the map.”

She provides a short description of the results, discussing her expectation of cannabis instead replace with the reality of waffles, spices, herring, laundry, flowers and leaves detected by participants.

“Dots mark the origins of the smells, concentric circles indicate their range and the warped contours allude to potential smell drift in the north- and south-westerley winds encountered on the days of the smellwalks. It is estimated that humans have the capacity to discriminate up to 1 trillion smells and our experience is highly individual; to walk and sniff is to know.”

The color legend breaks down specific dominant smells (both frequently-mentioned and ‘curious) derived from the 650 smells, and a subset of the 50 categories.

The graphical quality of these maps amplifies the the experiential quality, which also I believe makes them more engaging to wider audiences of designers and planners.  The magnitude lines offer an opportunity to zoom in on some specific comments displayed in an engaging way.

A video of this Smellmap Amsterdam is worth a look also:

Smellmap Amsterdam©KateMcLean2014 from RCA IED on Vimeo.

The 2017 New Yorker article “The Graphic Designer Who Maps the World’s Cities By Smell” shows a more localized example, as the author, guided by a kit she downloaded from McLean’s site, later mapped by McLean herself in Greenwich Village.  One of McLean’s own earlier endeavors looked at some specific blocks in New York, with a hyperlocal exercise,inspired by another article from New York Magazine ‘The Smelliest Block in New York‘.

The work blending art and science is a great model, and the representation offers some good lessons for mapping less concrete elements in the urban landscape.  The further parallel with hidden hydrology is in being able to interpret the unseen, as McLean mentions in the Atlas Obscura post, ““Participants are often surprised about how many odors can be detected if you really pay attention to smell,” McLean says. “Humans can differentiate a trillion different smells but we breathe about 24,000 times a day. Much of it can easily go unnoticed.” “

Victoria Henshaw

Another pioneer in the field is Victoria Henshaw, who sadly passed away in 2014. She provided another strong voice in the field of smell, authoring a 2013 book on the subject, Urban Smellscapes: Understanding and designing city smell environments, which was “…contributing towards the wider research agenda regarding how people sensually experience urban environments. It is the first of its kind in examining the role of smell specifically in contemporary experiences and perceptions of English towns and cities, highlighting the perception of urban smellscapes as inter-related with place perception, and describing odour’s contribution towards overall sense of place.”

An urban planner by training and an academic, Henshaw wrote on the topic at her blog Smell and the City, which, along with her book left a wonderful trove of info on the topic. An interview in Wired UK “Odour map seeks to save endangered smells‘ hints at an oft-mentioned theme in any writing around the subject: that while we scrub the cities of the bad smells, we also lose the essence of what makes places unique and special.

As mentioned by Henshaw: “”The approach to town-centre management has always been about sterilisation,” she says. “We’ve become so unused to strong smells that we now have adverse reactions to them.”  This disassociation is both the target as well as the opportunity to tap into unrealized sensory design opportunities, as we gain more understanding of the impacts.  One such method as the ability to reroute ventilation systems “to the front of restaurants and entertainment venues — with the intention of attracting more customers,” which ostensibly captures the essence and vitality of a food stall in Barcelona, from her site.

There’s a mention as well of a Global Smell Map that seems to be no longer viable as it doesn’t have any info.   A later article by Henshaw as well from 2014 ‘Don’t Turn Up Your Nose at the City in Summer” focuses the nose on New York, which for her was ‘The season of smell”, where smell becomes a factor in the original city grid layout to “maximize the benefits of westerly winds to dissipate the supposedly deadly miasmas thought to spread disease…” as well as industrial pasts, even long after the smoke stacks go cold, mentioning that “In London’s Olympic Village, for example, the main stadium was built on a former industrial zone — and when it rains, locals report detecting the smell of soap seeping from the site of an old factory.”

She mentions the sociology of smell as well, mentioning external issues like waste-treatment facilities and their smelly impacts often being located in poorer areas. “Smell also provides a sociological map of the city. Poorer people tend to have less control over their smell environments.”  The experience of smell-walks and close observations of senses, provides a new way of seeing and understanding places, and although sometimes foul, Henshaw’s advice is sound:

“But don’t hold your nose. Teach yourself to parse the city’s odors and you will find a new dimension of urban experience opening up before you. Accept the olfactory.”

McLean and Henshaw, along with a cast of others also helped co-edit the recent literature on the subject in the 2018 book  “Designing with Smell – Practices, Techniques and Challenges”, which offers “case studies from around the world, highlighting the current use of smell in different cutting-edge design and artistic practices…” [with] “…an emphasis on spatial design in numerous forms and interpretations – in the street, the studio, the theatre or exhibition space, as well as the representation of spatial relationships with smell.”

As mentioned, this detour into the realm of senses and smells may seem counter to the investigation of hidden hydrology, but these examples connect the hidden to the physical world through exploration, and also provide compelling ways of using these investigations of place while presenting graphic information that is compelling, interactive, and data-rich.  Next we will dive into another sensory exploration, that of soundscapes.


HEADER: Smell Map by Kate McLean – via Medium

 

 

 

 

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.”  

Following the early publication of ‘The Lost Rivers of London’ by Barton, there emerged in 2011 a set of compact, exploratory volumes by Paul Talling “London’s Lost Rivers” and by Tom Bolton “London’s Lost Rivers: A Walkers Guide”   Based on how they are listed on Amazon, it looks like Tallings book came out in June,  and Bolton’s arrived later in September, so i’ll start with the first.

London’s Lost Rivers by Paul Talling is a small pocket guide offers information on 22 lost rivers, and assorted other canals and water infrastructure.  There’s a companion website as well at www.londonslostrivers.com, which has info on the book as well as more details.  Paul Talling is a photographer and tour guide, so the book adopts that vibe, with great imagery and narrative focused on storytelling and exploration. A few images from the sample chapter on the website show the general format.

The maps are small but clean, with key highlights that reference back to the text, and the size warrants easy access via walks.

A review from May 2011 in the Londonist gives a good synopsis, “The format is spot on. Short bursts of text describe the tell-tale signs (look for ‘stink pipes’, sloping roads, and the sound of gushing water beneath manhole covers). Each watercourse is accompanied by an excellent selection of photos taken by the author.”

The text highlights some stories around the history and use, along with timelines for when the rivers were.  They vary as much as the rivers themselves, with anecdotes on things like the origins of the name, in this case the Effra“There are two possible explanations for the name Effra. The first is that it is derived from the Celtic word for torrent (given by the pre-Roman tribes) and the second is that it comes from an old London re-pronounciation of Heathrow, as the river flowed through the Manor of Heathrow in Brixton.”

There are lots of info on the site, including recent photos as well as a link to the a poem by U. A. Fanthorpe – “Rising Damp”, which was the 2nd place poem in the 1980 Arvon International Poetry Competition, included below:

Rising Damp by UA Fanthorpe.
A river can sometimes be diverted but is a very hard thing to lose altogether.’ (Paper to the Auctioneers’ Institute, 1907)

At our feet they lie low,
The little fervent underground
Rivers of London

Effra, Graveney, Falcon, Quaggy,
Wandle, Walbrook, Tyburn, Fleet

Whose names are disfigured,
Frayed, effaced.

There are the Magogs that chewed the clay
To the basin that London nestles in.
These are the currents that chiselled the city,
That washed the clothes and turned the mills,
Where children drank and salmon swam
And wells were holy.

They have gone under.
Boxed, like the magician’s assistant.
Buried alive in earth.
Forgotten, like the dead.

They return spectrally after heavy rain,
Confounding suburban gardens. They inflitrate
Chronic bronchitis statistics. A silken
Slur haunts dwellings by shrouded
Watercourses, and is taken
For the footing of the dead.

Being of our world, they will return
(Westbourne, caged at Sloane Square,
Will jack from his box),
Will deluge cellars, detonate manholes,
Plant effluent on our faces,
Sink the city.

Effra, Graveney, Falcon, Quaggy,
Wandle, Walbrook, Tyburn, Fleet

It is the other rivers that lie
Lower, that touch us only in dreams
That never surface. We feel their tug
As a dowser’s rod bends to the surface below

Phlegethon, Acheron, Lethe, Styx.”

The tours are still happening, a recent attendee posted photos of a Croydon Canal Walk, and the Lost Rivers Brewing pays homage to Talling as well in coaster (or shall I say ‘beermat’) form, via.

His other book/passion is Derelict London where he showcases his photography, which you can also see more of via the book of the same name. where he: “blending photographs with accounts of how particular buildings and sights fell into disrepair and what is likely to happen to them.:  He’s on Twitter @derelict_london


Tom Bolton (@teabolton) is a London-based researcher, walker and photographer, and his book London’s Lost Rivers: A Walker’s Guide, is also a small format, aimed at an audience on the go.  As mentioned on the publisher’s site Strange Attractor, “London’s Lost Rivers takes the reader on a series of walks along the routes of eight lost rivers, combining directions for walkers with richly detailed anecdotes outlining the history of each river’s route, origins and decline. Tom Bolton reveals a secret network that spreads across the city, from picturesque Hampstead in the North to the hidden suburbs of South London, and runs beneath some of London’s most iconic and historic sites.”  A great quote also mentioned, from The Great Wen its, “a terrific mix of history, topography and practicality…”  

A foreword by Christopher Fowler sets the scene, as he explains some of the history and demise, summarizing the change in the mid 19th century from a city with vital, flowing waters to “…the water of the common sewer which stagnates, full of … dead fish, cats and dogs, under their windows” (vi).  He ends with the following:

“”This, in a nutshell, is the paradox of the lost rivers. Despite the fact that mere proximity to them eventually became enough to kill you, their mystical significance was once so strong that the Romans floated gods upon their waters. Now, with walking maps to guide us, the journal of the hidden rivers becomes clearer.”

Bolton’s introduction is more succinct, setting the scene by discussing the 50 tributaries of the Thames, and that “Of these, two thirds are partially or wholly lost, buried beneath houses and streets, channelled away in underground tunnels, their flows diverted away by the sewer system.  London lost most of its rivers in less than 100 years, testament to the wave of change that transformed it from a city of 650,000 in 1750 to an industrial metropolis with a population peaking at 8.6 million in 1939.” (vii.)

The rivers are the “veins and arteries” (vii), and were crucial for the development and growth of the city, but the growth led to the eventual demise and disappearance.  Yet, “Today the rivers have a strong symbolic presence, encompassing every aspect of human existence…” describing the connections with birth, healing, renewals, death, religion, and more, concluding (along with the Fanthorpe quote as well), “Such fundamental elements of culture and landscape are not easily dismissed, and do not disappear just because they have been culverted.” (viii)

A typical spread has a image and a pithy quote, followed by what amounts to turn-by-turn directions for a route.

These are complemented with some simple and effective maps, showing the river course as a meandering gray flowline, adjacent with a dotted path that shows the closest walking route.  Key areas are identified with symbols and context is kept pretty spare to aid in legibility.  Tough to pull off with all black & white, these work well, and the pages aligning with the adjacent text, rather than cramming it all on one map, works well.

The text and maps could, with little augmentation, become a GPS enabled tour app that directs you where to go while overlaying the experience with the voice over text, and perhaps some historic maps and photos.  A review of this book in the Londonist gives a summary as well as a comparison to its predecessor: “Tom Bolton’s handbook to the buried tributaries of the Thames offers a very different take on the subject, however. Where Talling’s book surveyed almost 40 watercourses with a punchy combo of colour photos and scatter-gun trivia, his confrere offers a more detailed geographic account of just eight rivers; broad and shallow versus deep and narrow, to put it in riverine terms.”

The review contines, mentioning that the 8 walks highlighted in the text are “…backed up with endearing home-made maps, which match the text’s precise directions. The text itself is more buoyant than your typical guide book, puddled with allusions to folklore and quoting everyone from Norwood News to Coleridge to the Book of Common Prayer. The cultural magpie approach reflects both the author’s sideline in leading tour groups, and the fondness of the publisher, Strange Attractor, for arcane, unusual and ‘unpopular culture’. This makes for a cracking read even if you have no intention of pounding the pavements. Fleet, Tyburn, Neckinger, Wandle…you’ll lap them up.”

The format is similar in nature to Talling’s book, and while the former included the authors own photos, this book includes photos by SF Said (@whatSFSaid), which were part of an exhibition in 2011.  Again from the Londonist “A collection of distinctive photos by SF Said captures the Westbourne, Walbrook, Effra, and others. The photographer pulls some clever Polaroid tricks to give his subjects a murky, subaquatic hue.”  The best resource a post here is this flickr set from Said, and some more pics are on the Time Out London blog Now.Here.This. There’s also a PDF of the gallery show at Maggs, which show these great images.

It looks like 2011 may have been a banner year for London lost rivers and hidden hydrology resources in general, as it was also the year that our next blog topic, ‘Walking on Water’ by Stephen Myers came out (also in June 2011).  Would love to know the unique set of conditions that was happening in London at the time to spawn three books on Lost Rivers in the span of a few month. Something in the water, perhaps?


HEADER:  “Depth marker at (the now blocked) entrance to Hermitage Basin at the London Docks in Wapping”  From London’s Lost Rivers, Paul Talling

What’s in a name?  Why does language matter?  I asked this question previously in the post “Language as the Thread“, and it continually emerges and weaves through the study of hidden hydrology.  The names of streams and places, which are shaped by geography and culture, enliven our discovery of the old and the new.  I admit to a love of language, but had not specifically focused on toponyms to the degree I have until reading and following the fantastic Robert Macfarlane, who challenges us to expand these connections by “…collecting unusual words for landscapes and natural phenomena” and celebrating them.  He calls the accumulation the word hoard. and can be best accessed in his 2016 book Landmarks.

For water, like other phenomena, there are many encyclopedias for terms and usage both regional and global to encompass the range of toponymic variations.  And people also like making maps of these as well. The map that sparked this post I saw on Twiiter that was published in 2011 by Derek Watkins –  “Mapping Generic Terms for Streams in the Contiguous United States” which “…illustrates the range of cultural and environmental factors that affect how we label and interact with the world.”   [click to expand and zoom on the map below]

Even though I moved around a bit as a kid, i’m a straight stream or creek person, with an occasional Brook or Fork.  The graphics break down multiple regional variants:

“Lime green bayous follow historical French settlement patterns along the Gulf Coast and up Louisiana streams. The distribution of the Dutch-derived term kill (dark blue) in New York echoes the colonial settlement of “New Netherland” (as well as furnishing half of a specific toponym to the Catskill Mountains). Similarly, the spanish-derived terms rio, arroyo, and cañada (orange hues) trace the early advances of conquistadors into present-day northern New Mexico, an area that still retains some unique cultural traits. Washes in the southwest reflect the intermittent rainfall of the region, while streams named swamps (desaturated green) along the Atlantic seaboard highlight where the coastal plain meets the Appalachian Piedmont at the fall line.”

The focus on non-traditional toponyms for streams is great, although myself, like many others, mentioned “Where are Creeks, or Streams, or …” due to the absence of these being visible on the map.  A bit of digging shows that and he mentions that “This map taps into the place names contained in the USGS National Hydrography Dataset to show how the generic names of streams vary across the lower 48. Creeks and rivers are symbolized in gray due to their ubiquity (although the etymology behind the American use of creek is interesting), while bright colors symbolize other popular toponyms.”  Perhaps its just gray on black, but I think showing in one more visible color (a neutral light blue) and keying these would help paint a picture of all streams and then highlight the stranger ones. Minor graphic critique aside, it’s a cool exploration.

Watkins also references a British version, by James Cheshire on his site Spatial,ly where he created a map Naming Rivers and Places and maps brook, aton, water, river, and canal.

He adds that he:  extracted the major rivers and streams in Great Britain from the Ordnance Survey’s Strategi dataset and coloured them according to whether they are a “river”, “canal” (not sure if this really counts in terms of naming), “water”, “afon” (Welsh for river) and “brook”. You can see that a clear geography exists. I was not surprised by all the “afons” being in Wales but I was surprised to see so many “waters” in Scotland.”

There are many variations I’m sure just from perusing some I wonder about the term Beck, which comes up in a lot of literature in the UK and the studies of some of the lost rivers I’ve read.  According to the quick etymology it is used in Northern England, derived from “Old Norse bekkr, related to Dutch beek and German Bach . Used as the common term for a brook in the northern areas of England, beck often refers, in literature, to a brook with a stony bed or following a rugged course, typical of such areas.”

There’s another link to some simple toponymic maps on by Paul Fly in a set GNIS maps via flickr as well – where these are mapped with less at once so you see the comparative differences, along with some other iterations like Lake/Pond, and Branch/Run/Brook and a plethora of

Some additional links of interest from Watkins post include the book Names on the Land: A Historical Account of Place-Naming in the United States by George R. Stewart which also has a great essay on Slate here.  Additionally he mentions The Cultural Geography of the United States by Wilbur Zelinksky and the writings of Robert Cooper West.

More on toponyms and the application here in the Pacific Northwest in relation to hidden hydrology, and a wealth of additional discussions more generally on language, culture, and water to come.

Can massive computing power and artificial intelligence crack the code of deep history of places? This is a fundamental question of a project discussed in an article on nature.com “The ‘time machine’ reconstructing ancient Venice’s social networks”. Frédéric Kaplan plans to “…scan documents including maps, monographs, manuscripts and sheet music. It promises not only to open up reams of hidden history to scholars, but also to enable the researchers to search and cross-reference the information, thanks to advances in machine-learning technologies.”

The Venice Time Machine can link citizens and businesses with historic maps of Venice, such as this sixteenth-century view of the city. Credit: EPFL/Archivio di Stato

The goal is to crunch enough data to outline the connections that emerged in historical societies including “social networks, trade, and knowledge”.  While of interest to historians, it could also inform economists and epidemiologists, as well as other disciplines.  Much like Rome, Venice, mentioned as “The Serene Republic“, is a good for this endeavor due to the wealth of knowledge and its organization, aided by its protected lagoons and it’s desire for documentation.

“As Venice’s empire grew, it developed administrative systems that recorded vast amounts of information: who lived where, the details of every boat that entered or left the harbour, every alteration made to buildings or canals.”

While there was been study over the years, much of the archive “…predominantly written in Latin or the Venetian dialect, has never been read by modern historians. Now it will all be systematically fed into the Venice Time Machine, along with more unconventional sources of data, such as paintings and travellers’ logs.”

Kaplan’s interest has been to employ AI for lingustics, so the concept of using machine learning to study patterns in language is fundamental to the work, along with digitization of many thousands of pages of documents, building on work already done by the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage.

There’s a lot more about the linguistic ‘hacking’ of documents, as illustrated below, but the concept also involved diving into the archival cartography.   “In 2006, a huge, purpose-built scanner began to digitize the archive’s precious store of more than 3,000 maps of Italian towns, including many commissioned by Napoleon. These ‘cadastral’ maps delineate property boundaries and record the ownership of small parcels of land; some of the documents are as large as 4 metres by 7 metres.”

The result is the ability to create some amazing detail with overlay of multiple sources:

“One cadastral map of Venice that he commissioned in 1808 has provided a backbone of reliable data, allowing historians to add geographical context to a 1740 census that lists citizens who owned and rented property in the city. By combining this with 3D information about buildings from paintings such as those of Canaletto, the time-machine team has produced an animated tour through Venice, showing which businesses were active in each building at the time.”

A video on YouTube outlines the ambitions of the project.  From their summary:  “The State archives of Venice contain records stretching back over a thousand years. The vast collection of maps, images and other documents provide an incredibly detailed look into Venetian history. This could be used to create a kind of virtual time machine for historians and the public to explore the city.”

What implications does this have for hidden hydrology?  To me, the overwhelming task of both digitizing information and determining patterns is something that is daunting for a team of professionals, much less individuals looking to glean discoveries from their local place.  The sheer effort and technology in digitization and analysis could be employed to discover key linkages and patterns that may illuminate historical hydrology, topography, and other clues.  An example mentioned in the article highlights the concept, using animations to look at spatio-temporal change , in fact “One is a dynamic video of the development of the Rialto from AD 950 onwards, using diverse sources of information at different time points. The simulation shows how the buildings — and the iconic Rialto Bridge — sprung up among the salt marshes, along with the area’s periodic destruction by fires and subsequent reconstructions.”

The possibilities with large data sets is intriguing, and the article mentions cross-disciplinary opportunities, as well as larger connections to other ‘time machines’ in cities, such as a new effort in Amsterdam and possibilities in Paris.  It adds a dimension of big data as a potential avenue for exploration, yet is tempered by age-old techniques and cautions of the next shiny object.

“The unbridled ambitions of the time-machine project are a concern for some researchers, not least because many of its core technologies are still being developed. “The vision of extending digital representation into different time slots is absolutely, self-evidently right — but it might be better to develop things more in a lot of different, small projects,” says Jürgen Renn, a digital-humanities pioneer and a director at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science.  Nevertheless, Daston suspects that the time machine heralds a new era of historical study. “We historians were baptized with the dust of archives,” she says. “The future may be different.”

Header image via: nature.com

Last week was Part 2 of the Waterlines class, featuring archaeologist Dennis Lewarch, Suquamish Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, with a concept of ‘Before the Cut’.  This was an exploration “using archaeological, ethnographic and historical data [to discuss] the effects of shoreline transformations on indigenous populations.”  Similar to the first class, the depth and breadth of the cultural history, and his more expansive title ‘Archaeology and Ethnographic Background of Seattle and Prior Massive Anthropogenic Modifications” hints at the depth of this topic.

Lots of details here, but the idea that in the past 14,000 years of occupation by native peoples, after migration from the north via the Bering Land Bridge and along the outside edge of the ice.  There are various theories, but that the retreating glaciers opened up a path between that allowed access, and continuous occupation is found throughout the Northwest in archaeological sites 12-13000 years of age. Once here, the land has changed via sea level rise, mudflows, earthquakes, tsunamis, subsidence, alluvial processes, and more.  The story is thus the land shaping people, and the people shaping land.  The defining characteristics of the different tribal groups are called adaptions, and place origins of geography, such as the Saltwater adaptation, particularly the Suquamish who lived near the sea, versus the Riverine adaptation, the Duwamish people who lived near the river.  Other adaptations are tied to lakes and inland/upland areas, all of which collectively shape the speech, family community, and cultures.  For Lewarch’s presentation, the focus discussed a larger history of regional indigenous occupation of the Seattle area, with focus on some of the areas near Seattle that had significance.

Black River Origins

One of the main points of origin for Duwamish people, based on the above adaption, is the Black River, where four original villages were located.  An excerpt from the 1909 USGS Topographic map of the area shows the former drainage, where the Cedar River flowed in from the east, and the Black River drained the south part of Lake Washington, near Renton.  This confluence also was fed from the south by the former route of the White River, as all of it flowed into the Duwamish and out to the Sound.  The names of the settlements of the ‘People of the Lake Fork’ and the inhabitants near the Little Cedar River, and their evolution in living off the land and the river ecosystems for many years.

The demise of this home place began with channelization of the Cedar River into Lake Washington, and ended he lowering of the lake when the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks were built in 1916.  The elevation of Lake Washington was lowered nine feet, to the same as Lake Union, which severed its outflow to the Black River, captured in the photo below shows the river after the lowering of the lake, where it slowly died and has (mostly) been subsequently buried.  For more on the Black River history, a short blurb on this from David Williams here. 

 

The map from the Wikipedia page on the Black River also shows the before and after and the erasure of the original location of Duwamish settlements through reconfiguration of the hydrology of the region, another in a long line of massive manipulations in the region.  The Duwamish People were living in the area, and continued to do so, even as the Black River was dying.  They were relocated to reservations, and as Lewarch mentioned, they were sent to coastal areas near the ocean, and being a river tribe, kept returning to the river to fish for many years after, where they lived on a property owned by Erasmus Smithers, until it was burned in 1896.  There’s inevitably a long history of settlement and resettlement and disenfranchisement throughout recent history I’m glossing over, but the idea of a river tribe not having a river seems par for the course of how tribes were treated.  Secondary to this, the subtle differences between different tribes were not recognized, with many Suquamish or other tribes in the region being lumped into the Duwamish by colonists.

Duwamish River

The Duwamish River obviously had a significant place in the history of this river tribe, and the estuary connected the river people with those of the sea and the density of place names in that zone .  A number of archaeological sites amidst the oxbows of this area.  The 1899 US Coast Survey shows the bay and larger estuary, with the area of downtown Seattle starting to build out, but prior to the majority of the land filling to come.

A map of these old configuration juxtaposed with the channel that exists today shows the level of land filling and manipulation done to this area to carve out industrial lands.  From the fantastic Duwamish Revealed site: “About 100 years ago, the Duwamish was straightened and dredged, reducing 14 miles of winding river to 5 miles of industrial “waterway.” Nearly all of the native habitat – mudflats, marshes, and swamps surrounded by old growth Cedar, Douglas Fir, and Hemlock trees – was replaced by agriculture, then industry.  The Duwamish is home to three Native tribes: The Duwamish, the Muckleshoot, and the Suquamish, and has immense cultural importance to them. The word “Duwamish” is an Anglicized version of Dkhw’Duw’Absh, meaning “people of the inside” in Lushootseed, the language of the Coast Salish people.”

Ballast Island

While native peoples were instrumental in building the city and working in it’s saw mills, fisheries and other industry, rapidly changing Seattle began to try to eliminate the native residents of the city, passing laws in 1863 to make it illegal for Indians to live in Seattle unless they worked for whites, villages and settlements were burned.  Native peoples moved north as development occurred, and tended to stay near the water, occupying places within the network of piers and wharves.  One such place was Ballast Island, formed from ships dumping rocks after their voyages, which slowly accumulated into made land.   A photo from the area shows the colonization of this space by Native peoples, who camped out around the wharfs fringes, being ogled by early Seattlites.  In 1891 they were forcibly removed, one in a string of forced removals that shaped the early history of the area.

West Point & Shilshole

Moving away from downtown, the occupation and history of West Point, the point that was formerly military outpost and now Discovery Park, along with being the massive sewage-treatment plant.  This area was a tidal marsh that was occupied and used, with the formation of sediment along with earthquakes shaping.  When the treatment plant was being expanded, a significant archaeological effort was undertaken, beautifully documented in this online resource from the Burke MuseumShilshole also has a significance to Native Seattle, with the native word meaning ‘threading the needle’ to get into the small mouth that led into Salmon Bay, which was littered with shell middens and other features showing occupation, similar to other areas on the coast.  Prior to the creation of the locks, this area .  One long-time resident was Salmon Bay Charlie.  A great resource for this and other Seattle history is the blog by Paul Dorpat featuring ‘Seattle: Now & Then‘, where you can investigate the area in some more detail.  From the post: “Salmon Bay Charlie and his wife lived in their cedar plank home on the south shore of Magnolia’s Salmon Bay. For half a century Charlie, also known as Siwash Charlie, sold salmon, clams and berries to the first settlers and later to the soldiers at Fort Lawton.  Today’s historical view shows Charlie’s house at the turn of the century, taken by the photography firm, Webster and Stevens.”

A bit to the east, the connection between the eastern edge of Lake Union and Lake Washington is a good discussion of place names, including the connections between Lushootseed, or Coast Salish names and colonist names. This brought up a discussion of the area below,

I rotated the Waterlines map to match the same orientation, and the references to the area marked B, which was a village site named sɬuwiɬ, “Little Canoe Channel” that marked the mouth of Ravenna Creek, where Lewarch mentions there were stories of salmon runs up Ravenna.  There’s also Lake Union, marked as #21, which is called x̌ax̌əču meaning, “Small Lake” and Foster Island, in an area named staɬaɬ or “Baby Fathom” showing that even with a translation there is still a story missing.  Perhaps a shallow zones at the mouth of the creek.  The cut, marked as #18 which is named  sxʷac̓adwiɬ translated as “Carry a Canoe” meaning it probably wasn’t passable as a waterway until later when the Denny’s opened it up as a log-sluice to move timber between the two points.

The conversation of ethnography and language started with T.T. Waterman, who studied local tribal place names in the 1920s, seen in publications like “The Geographical Names Used by the Indians of the Pacific Coast” and the author of the book Puget Sound Geography, which was edited by Vi Hilbert, Jay Miller, and Zalmai Zahir.

According to Lewarch, the notes from Waterman were sort of a mess, so the editors compiled it into something readable, including an amazing figure in Seattle history, Vi Hilbert, a Puget Salish and “a conservationist of the Lushootseed language and Culture”.  While Waterman interviewed a small group of around 25 native people for his work, it generated over one thousand place names.  And as Lewarch mentioned, all of those interviewed said if they had talked to the Elders, they would have ended up with 1000s more, a sad testament to a cultural history lost forever.  Another resource for this is Coll Thrush’s book ‘Native Seattle‘ offers a great section with maps of those place names developed along with Anthropologist Nile Thompson, a snapshot of one below with the accompanying Lushootseed language and origins.  Many of these as I mentioned ended up on the Waterlines map, with more abbreviated descriptions.  The one below shows the NW corner with Green Lake in the center, and West Point, Lake Union, and Salmon Bay, along with areas along the coast marked.

CONCLUSION:

Lots of threads to follow and stories to connect.  In general, the talk focused on the Indigenous cultures and their resilience, both pre-European settlement and after colonization, displacement, and more.  He ended up with a quote from Chief Seattle, and discussion both of the potential misinterpretation of his words by the translator, and whether it was an environmental, or social statement, but the multiple meanings that resonated strongly in Seattle history.   He quoted a passage:

“And when the last Red Man shall have perished, and the memory of my tribe shall have become a myth among the White Men, these shores will swarm with the invisible dead of my tribe, and when your children’s children think themselves alone in the field, the store, the shop, upon the highway, or in the silence of the pathless woods, they will not be alone. In all the earth there is no place dedicated to solitude. At night when the streets of your cities and villages are silent and you think them deserted, they will throng with the returning hosts that once filled them and still love this beautiful land. The White Man will never be alone.”

Chief Seattle’s niece at her Shilshole home, 1901 – via http://www.duwamishtribe.org/culture.html

It could be both a warning or a statement that shows that resilience of Native people wasn’t just in survival, but left a permanent mark on the landscape and people.  The culture and place of what Seattle is and the way we should live is etched in history and resonates in the places dotting the map of Seattle, including waters visible and hidden.

ADDENDA:

A preliminary presentation featured Amir Sheikh, one of the primary collaborators on the Waterlines Project, and he discussed much of the history and process of the overall project and methodology along with framing the concept of place names using Lushootseed language, as featured on the Waterline maps (see my post on language here).  One video he showed was “Djidjila’letch to Pioneer Square: From Native village to Seattle metropolis“, a video which takes the viewer “…from Native village to metropolis, the Pioneer Square neighborhood of Seattle has undergone dramatic transformations. This animation provides a bird’s eye glimpse at some of the social, economic, and landscape histories of the neighborhood through time.”

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Excited to see this announcement of a series classes focused around the Waterlines Project (see my post about it here as well).  The four week  ‘Waterlines Class Series‘ meets Wednesdays at the Burke Museum and costs $120 ($100 for Burke members), and aims to cover lots of territory on Seattle’s interesting landscape history.  From the site:

Wednesday, April 19, 2017
The Origins of Seattle’s Landscape
Dr. Stan Chernicoff
Discover the dynamic geological forces that shaped and continue to shape the lands of the Salish Sea. During his 30-year tenure at the University of Washington, geologist Dr. Stan Chernicoff established a unique rapport with his students and a mastery of subject matter. In 2000, he received the University of Washington Distinguished Teacher Award for lively curiosity, commitment to research and passion for teaching.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017
Before the Cut
Dennis Lewarch, Suquamish Tribal Historic Preservation Officer
Using archaeological, ethnographic and historical data, Dennis Lewarch disccuses the effects of shoreline transformations on indigenous populations. A professional archaeologist, Lewarch has worked in western Washington for over 30 years and brings useful insights that intertwine environmental change, archaeological data and tribal land use in the region.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017
Waterway: The Story of Seattle’s Locks and Ship Canal
David B. Williams
Find out what drove Seattle’s civic leaders to pursue the dream of a Lake Washington Ship Canal for more than 60 years and what role that canal has played in the region’s development over the past century. The author of Too High and Too Steep: Reshaping Seattle’s TopographyThe Seattle Street-Smart Naturalist and Seattle Walks: Discovering History and Nature in the City, David B. Williams also organizes the Burke’s annual Environmental Writer’s Workshop. His upcoming book, Waterway, will be out June 2017.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017
Reclaiming the Duwamish
Eric Wagner and Tom Reese
Eric Wagner and Tom Reese, author and photographer of Once and Future River: Reclaiming the Duwamish, discuss the history of Seattle’s relationship with its one and only river. Wagner’s writing has appeared in Scientific American, Smithsonian, Audubon and other publications. Reese is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated photojournalist recognized for his feature work and explanatory reporting during his career at The Seattle Times.

A diversion from the explorations of precedents of cities, we turn to Swimming To Heaven: London’s Lost Rivers by Iain Sinclair the “british writer, documentarist, film maker, poet, flaneur, metropolitan prophet and urban shaman, keeper of lost cultures and futurologist” I wasn’t sure what to expect, and was pleasantly surprised, as was one of those singular experiences that transcends disciplinary boundaries of urbanist, historical, literary, and hydrological worlds.  While the topics is Lost Rivers and exploration of the urban, the meditations on water and experience inform a larger connection with place, history, and language akin to what I reference in the title as ‘Poetics’.

Sinclair starts to explain the motivation early:

“Walking over or alongside the buried rivers of London stitches a form of collective memory in our sides.”  (3)

Mentioning a continuing fascination and obsession with the water, Sinclair points out early on where the book derived from. “My neurosis persists: the only ways worth negotiating with this world, while still hoping to connect with the rhythms of the cosmos, are by walking and swimming.  Which brings me to the haunting complexity of London’s buried rivers.  They’re not lost, not at all.  Just because you can’t see a thing, as Ed Dorn points out, doesn’t mean that it’s not there.  The rivers continue, hidden and culverted as they might be, to flow through our dreams, fixing the compass of our moods and movements.  The Walbrook, the Fleet, the Tyburn, the Westbourne, the Effra, the Neckinger: visible or invisible, they haunt us.” (5)

A Map of London Before the Houses – via @culturaltales

A previous book by Sinclair (which I have not read) is a meditation on his home place, captured in detail in Hackney, That Rose-Red Empire, which  referenced again in Lost Rivers, when he mentions,“Hackney, before the coming of the canals and railways, was quite a desirable suburb” (14) and “…all these blessings derived from the existence of a founding river, the Hackney Brook.  Now bricked over, made into a sewer, lost to us.”  (15)

Hackney Brook

Sinclair connects this to the lost rivers, “It is not possible to understand the growth and development of Hackney, for example, without registering the presence of that subterranean river, the Hackney Brook(5-6)

Hackney Brook as lost river thus becomes the inspiration, per Sinclair. “I think we should first of all take on the conceit of the ‘lost’ river as being applicable to the whole of London.  How do we define a lost river?  Are these simply rivers that have become degraded by exploitation, the excesses of mechanical industry?  They are present, certainly, their names coded into the streets, but you’d hardly know that they’re there.  Or are we talking about rivers that have disappeared — been culverted — and I think that’s more like it.  I the mid-nineteenth century, there was a moment when many inconvenient tributaries were culverted, because we needed to introduce, by way of the civil engineer, Sir Joseph Bazalgette, a very effective sewerage system.  A circuit of London’s waste to be washed away, purified, dumped into the Thames.” (15-16)

Hackney Brook
Workmen culverting Hackney Brook in Mare street (c.1900)

Sinclair laments the path that led to the burial of streams like Hackney Brook, or others throughout London. “The old rivers, with their intensely local benefits and pastoral memory traces, were also deemed anachronistic.  Either rivers were of use, for transport or water power, or they were hidden, as carriers of disease and conduits of filth and waste.”  Seen as progress, “…a sewage system was a proud Victorian boast of progress, contrived to lift the citizens of this powerful imperial metropolis away from the fetid stinks and oozes of the earlier, louder and stickier city of collisions.” (16)  His rivers lost to this modernization, are the “…rivers of memory, of inspiration” (7) and thus derive from the idea that “certain areas of the city have their individual sense of time”(13) While Hackney Brook is the local place for Sinclair, he posits that “…the most mythologized of London’s lost rivers is the Fleet.” (16)

 This is seen throughout history, beginning with Wren’s concept for London post-fire in 1666 could have transformed the city differently, utilizing the River Fleet (now buried) as a Venetian canal.
Wren’s plan for post-fire London
Close-up of canal in Wren’s plan

From another post from Chris Haile expands with an explanation of the plan in more detail: “From the remaining part of Fleet Street which escaped the fire about St. Dunstan’s Church a straight and wide street crosses the valley passing by the south side of Ludgate, and thence in a direct line through the whole City terminating at Tower Hill, but before it descends into the Valley where the Great Sewer [the Fleet, a tributary of the Thames] runs… Passing forward we cross the valley, once sullied with an offensive sewer now beautified with a useful canal, with wharves on each side, passable by as many bridges as streets that cross it.” (from Haile 2/1/14)

The southern reaches of the Fleet, flowing from Holborn Bridge, beneath Fleet Bridge, and into the Thames next to Bridewell Palace (between 1553 and 1559)

Sinclair meditates on this plan – and the brief moment before the opportunity was lost.  “There was that moment when Christopher Wren felt that he could initiate, with a revamp of the Fleet, a new Venice, right at the river’s mouth, close to St Paul’s Cathedral: a shining rational city of domes and bridges and splendid public works…. Wren didn’t have CGI futurism as a tool, ersatz utopianism, but he did have drawings that suggested Fleet-as-Venice would be a wonder of the age.  Except that every soon, and inevitably, the river was a ditch, a sewage creek crusted with dead dogs.”  (22-23) The dichotomy of river as urban canal versus the reality of river as sewer is perhaps the dominant theme of lost rivers, culminating in the Great Stink and the Victorian modernization of municipal sewers, which has Sinclair adds, had the result that finally, “the river was enclosed, sealed over, lost.” (23)

Sinclair also evokes a number of literary figures in the book, asking “What is this affinity of London visionaries, writers and mystics, with living water?”(7) This includes William Blake, who “…lived close to the Thames, tracking the River Fleet to Hampstead, to visit the Linnells, Blake is making a return to the source.  He is swimming uphill, absorbing the potency of a partly submerged stream; one of the arteries of his city.  There is a very particular sense of London and its geography.  And underlying all of this are torrential lines of verse in the great epic poems and wild waters of inspiration surging, stalling, tumbling over weirs and falls.” (6-7)

Another poet inspired by the Fleet is Aiden Andrew Dun author of the long poem Vale Royal “…registers the accretions of fable associated with what he calls the ‘River of Wells’.  Dun tracks the fleet from the seven springs of Kenwood, through Camden Town to Kings Cross.  He speaks of a river famous ‘for healing and medicinal waters’.”  tapping the deep vein of  “…meaning and mythology of the Fleet.  In practical terms, he leads walks that he calls ‘river pilgrimages’ through the historic traces of the submerged stream.” (17)

Construction work in 1845 to deepen the sewer carrying the Fleet down Fleet Street

Dun “remind us that the Fleet ‘still runs under Kings Cross today’… ‘As late as the mid-nineteenth century’, he says, ‘it ran on the surface through a green and pleasant land. But south of the Euston Road at this period it was already bricked-over and buried’.” (33)

From Vale Royal:

Kings Cross, dense with angels and
histories / there are cities beneath your
pavements / cities behind your skies.  Let
me see!  (34)
1854 — The Corporation of London workmen repairing the Fleet sewer, south of Fleet street under the direction of Mr. W. Haywood. The sewers carried 87,000,000 gallon of water daily in 1854. — Image by © CORBIS

Building on the work of Dun and Blake, Sinclair continues to delve into literary ruminations on the lost rivers.  He mentions that “Text, under the influence of buried rivers, becomes porous.” (30) which is true of London poets Bill Griffiths and Allen Fisher both of whom “…treat our lost rivers.  Both of them track South London streams, in the thick of local particulars, towards and erased history, to emerge in the contemporary world of political opportunism, civic discord.”  (37)

From Fisher’s poem Place:

     if I take a river to its source / and in the 
     case of the Falcon Brook / this is 2 springs
     / & follow its course / from head to tail /
     to the Thames / I may arrived from at least
     three projections / the source in the springs
     / is not the actual source / but the first
     visible source / so that if Pound said it / 
     it is original  / this originality has come
     because of previous accumulation  (39)

Anecdotes abound as well, with diversions on the subterranean sewers in The Third Man, which was set in Vienna where we picture Orson Welles – “flapping overcoat running through picturesque sewers.  Welles was not ever keen on going down into the tunnels, so they ended up recording sound effects under London: in the Fleet.” (23)

And a special one I’d love to look at closer, the Black Swine in the Sewers of Hampstead (Beneath the Surface of Victorian Sensationalism) by Thomas Boyle, which “The stream rushes on, now under the pavements, slaughterhouses, prisons, book stalls, down the valley of the Fleet, towards myths of albino hogs in the sludge of dripping subterranean spaces…  Legends of animals, escaped from Smithfield, feeding on refuse, living in darkness… It has been said that… Hampstead sewers shelter a monstrous breed of black swine.” (35-36)

The literary and the sensational intersect in the sewers and buried rivers of cities, something that is unlike other books on Lost Rivers that take the approach of tour guide, ecological investigator, or historian.  Sinclair: “However contradictory your approach to writing about the city, whether you’re a modernist using conceptual methods of research, combined with walking, bus trips, photography, painting, or whether you’re a traditional poet obedient to strict form, rivers infiltrate your projections as memory strips or teasing songlines.” (39-40)

The dialogue is critical without being overly environmental or sentimental.  In his discussions, there are moments when the impact of buried rivers sometimes comes to the surface of the writing.

“When rivers lose their status, spiritually and materially, the land is drained of value.” (52-53)

The loss of value becomes transactional, “Hidden rivers are part of an attempt to found a celestial city above the degraded particulars of the nexus of business and banking.(25) The cost below for another type of city seen above, the “subterranean streams brooding beneath speculative developments in the new suburbs of the west.”  (62-63)

This is where we enter the poetics of Lost Rivers, the book a lovely and dichotomous metaphor of the above and below ground city – the old and the new, that looks at loss yielding “…this vision of hybrid London, rus in urbe, snaking away to source, beyond the reservoirs, parks, spring pools…” (49)  while also connecting to “London’s plural nature: city within city, upside-down topography, rivers flowing under the ground, heaven inside the ball of earth.” (37)

Unless noted, all quotes from:
Sinclair, Iain.  Swimming to Heaven: The Lost Rivers of London. London: The Swedenborg Society, 2013. 

Many precedents and projects from the around the globe, being slowly populated in the Resources section.  These will all get some more in-depth attention, and starting it off locally, I wanted to highlight The Waterlines Project.  The ability to ‘Discover and Explore Seattle’s Past Landscapes’ is hosted by the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, and offers a densely researched and vibrant picture of the historic cultural and ecology of Seattle prior to the significant engineering that has subsequently taken place.

“Founded on Indian ground by American settlers in 1851, Seattle is one of the most dramatically engineered cities in the United States.  Its shorelines have been extended, lagoons filled, hills flattened and rivers re-routed.  Built on an active geological fault near a large volcano, Seattle has also been jolted by huge earthquakes, washed by tsunamis, covered by volcanic mud and ash, fluted by glaciers and edged by rising seas.”

The project is historical in nature, using the shorelines as a datum for use and reconfiguration over time, which the creators offer as”an appropriate and compelling framework for viewing the city’s history–one that will engage public audiences and raise themes that are important in American history.”  Synthesis of documentary info (maps, photos) alongside oral histories and other archaeological and geological study weaves a mosaic visual that is more accessible to the public.

The main product of the project is the large Waterlines Project Map, which available in a number of places around Seattle, as well as graphic and PDF download on the site.  The front illustrates the mid-19th Century landscape, before settlement by non-native peoples, including keyed places that reference Coast Salish terms, many of which are evocative and descriptive of function, such as The Growing Place and Water Falling Over an Edge.  The ecology is also evident, with a range of forest, prairie, wetland, rivers and creeks.

waterlines_map_large

There’s also a very faint outline of the modern shoreline, which doesn’t dominate but gives a feel for the adjustment of these Waterlines the significant filling, straightening, and flattening that occurred.  This is highly evident in the mouth of the Duwamish River seen below, with the creation of Harbor Island and industrial lands south of downtown, as well as the channelization of the previously bendy river.

waterlines_map_closeup

The back side of the map shows more information in the form of tours of significant historical stories, such as the lakes, glaciation, and rivers, as well as the original settlement location in current Pioneer Square, which was also an indigenous village named The Crossing Over Place.  There’s also a timeline of the most recent 20,000 years of geology and development for a bit of long context.

waterlines_map_back_large

waterlines_map_back_closeup

The background for the map is immense, drawing from the previous work of the the Puget Sound River History Project, and involves multiple disciplines. yet it’s simple and effective, somewhat similar to the Mannahatta 2D visuals.  The site offers additional source materials, such as maps, photographs and links to resources.  Some interesting juxtaposition occurs when paired with recent aerial photos at similar scale – both as a way to emphasis erasure and addition, but also to show traces of what still remains.

duwamish_valley_2

The iterations of time between the two time intervals above are indicative of the Seattle penchant for ‘making land’ (matched in intensity with ‘taking land’ perhaps).  The story of the filling of the Duwamish and colonization of tideflats and water from 1875 through 2008 in the series below and reinforces the significant alteration that both radically shifted the ecology of Seattles only river, but also provided land to grow the city and industrial base.

duwamish_estuary_fill_series

The core team includes Peter Lape, Amir Sheikh, and Donald Fels, and a host of collaborators listed here.  While referential, the focus is not on the buried streams and creeks, so my work is complementary and draws much in terms of inspiration and information from this project as well as possible collaborations and resources in Seattle.

For a bit more context surrounding the Little Crossing Over Place, this video made by the team shows the transformation of the Pioneer Square area of Seattle “a bird’s eye glimpse at some of the social, economic, and landscape histories of the neighborhood through time.” 

# all images via Waterlines

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