photography

A fun story about an interesting project being developed to provide a version of street view, only for rivers. From the story on knkx, “‘FishViews’ Mapping Tool Provides Virtual tours Of Local Rivers”  which announced they had “…just finished mapping its sixth Northwest river, the Stillaguamish. Other tours include Lake Washington, Lake Union, Shilshole Bay and the Locks. They’re all enabled for virtual reality headsets and you can cruise along at your preferred speed, or zoom around the panoramic images with your cursor, like you might on Google. You can even take a peek underwater. There’s definitely a “gee whiz” factor.”

From their site, FishViews aims to explore waterways and waterway data with virtual reality tours, but they also have a ton of other practical uses.  Focus areas at this point include Seattle area and some more remote locations in the Cascade Range and Olympic Pennisula, including their first, the somehwhat recently dam-free Elwha River (seen in the header above).  Additionally zones in Texas around San Antonio and Houston have also been mapped by the FishViews team.  You can access via guess account, or sign up for full access to some of the info – and other than having to sign in over and over again, I’d highly recommend losing a few hours, as it’s a lot of fun.

The interface is powered through ESRI storymap format, so has a pretty intuitive user experience of selecting through map icons or on a slider, with the ability to search as well.  Lots of these early maps focus around the Seattle.  One worth checking out is the Lower Duwamish, which encompasses the lower 12 miles of the Green River drainage, now so manipulated it lost its designation as a river and is now only “known as the Duwamish Waterway”.  Each ‘tour’ has a bit of introductory info.

Probably few have the chance to boat the 12 mile stretch of the Duwamish, and it’s telling to tour the edges and discover the massive industrialization of the entire shoreline.

And also the moments of sublime beauty, which are reflected in a similar fashion to this previous post on the Duwamish River from the book ‘Once and Future River’, such as what may be the longest waterfront facade without a window, to the industrial beauty inherent in this context.

The access to metrics is sort of an interesting take, with a variety of info available in a pop-up, such as resistivity and conductivity, dissolved solids, temperature, salinity, and dissolved oxygen, as seen below for the Duwamish (at least when this data was being collected).

A few more shots, including the area connecting the Ship Canal to Lake Union.

And for smaller lakes, a nice coverage around the shoreline of Green Lake – also showing, similar to the beauty of Street View in capturing art – there’s some amazing shots of these aquatic resources as well.

In Portland area, they done an initial mapping of the Willamette, which is a nice tour around the city.  An option as well to have the scene data in the lower corner also provides some context – but it drives a lot like Street View.

The ability to animate by linking the frames together is not a terribly enjoyable experience – although you can adjust frame rate. Think along the lines of a boat ride with a queasy stomach,but is a nice way to tour through a route to see what it holds.  A view of the northern section of the Willamette shows this in action.

The underwater view is probably a lot more interesting in shallow water rivers and creeks, but pretty much looks a lot like this in both Portland and Seattle.

Although I was secretly hoping for robot fish, the technology for FishView’s capture technology is similar to information gathering for Street View, with a similar 360 camera rig, along with a variety of other sensors.

While the cameras are catching the views up top, they are employing some selective sub-surface cameras, as well as customized data logging equipment.  Their process also does surveying and “…collects data below the surface. We deploy leading edge sonar technology for mapping, imaging, and exploring underwater. We use EPA standards for detailed water quality assessments and HD photography for below the surface insights. All tailored to our Virtual Reality Platform.”

The company also provides these services, per their site: “FishViews offers interactive 360° virtual tours and virtual reality for aquatic resource management. We incorporate a wide variety of hydrologic survey methods in order to produce a personalized, high-quality presentation that works specifically for your waterway data survey needs. From a stand alone 360° panoramic tour, to a comprehensive virtual reality model of an entire waterway, we create virtual platforms giving hydrologic data a home, complete with a custom-designed user interface. Our individual approach will ensure all your hydrologic survey requirements are met.”

The virtual reality component also sounds interesting, with access via phone based or immersive VR goggles – probably instinctively causing one to hold their breath, at least for a second or two.  Some more coverage via GeoAwesomeness “FishViews: Mapping the world’s waterways one mile at a time”, a video from Vice News on the project, and a PDF of a story from Pacific Standard, ‘Eyes on the River‘.

The possibilities of this seems pretty intriguing.  There’s obviously a scale aspect of , but the examples from Green Lake (seen in a VR snapshot above) Lake Union, and the Ship Canal and Locks and Discovery Park shoreline are all great explorations of urban waters in a way yet to be seen – a true key to unlocking some hidden hydrology.

And thanks to @pugetpeople for the tip on this one!


HEADER:  Screenshot of Fishview map of Elwha River – via KNKX

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

As 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MORE FROM SÃO PAULO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENTRE RIOS from Caio Ferraz on Vimeo.

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


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

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

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

SOME TOURS

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

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

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

SOME ART

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

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

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

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

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

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

Liquid City: Currents (Eve Mosher)

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

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

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

Iteration 3 – Eve Neves
Print by Mikaela Kvan

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

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

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

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

SOME HISTORY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Islais Creek – photo by Nathan Kensiger, via Curbed NY

SOME MISCELLANY

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

Before and After views of daylighted creek

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

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

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

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

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


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

As 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

A fascinating history of hidden hydrology (of a sort) are the mysterious infrastructure traces often in plain sight. We may do a double take, or wonder about some random pattern on the surface, but often dismiss this as legacies of historical cycles of building and erasure.  Those on the lookout and with an inquring spirit may discover, if you’ll pardon the pun, a deeper story.

A recent article in May 2017 from CityLab shows “The Sublime Cisterns of San Francisco”,  and offers some clues to the origins, namely “Subterranean vats were an emergency response to the city being repeatedly and savagely burned to the ground.”  The circles exist at a number of intersections throughout the city, noted with a circle of brick or stone.

“To date there are 170 to 200 of the tanks stashed around town—the city’s numbers vary quite a bit—functioning as emergency watersources apart from the water mains and suction stations pumping saltwater from the Bay.”

The first reference to this urban feature traces back to the always prescient Burrito Justice, who first unlocked the story in 2011, in a post link “Cole Valley Alley Solves Cistern Mystery”, and expanded on this in the 2013 post “What’s Underneath Those Brick Circles”, both of which highlight the origins of the stone circles, some dating back as far as the 1850s.

The original Cole Valley Alley post got some info from the SF Department of Public Works, including the “original 1909 plans for the 75,000 gallon cistern on Frederick & Shrader”

The original CityLab post links to a few more pics from Robin Scheswohl/San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, showing the amazing interior of these spaces:

The CityLab article also mentions the map by Mapzen’s John Oram (Burrito Justice himself), who built a fantastic interactive map of the cisterns available here – a few screenshots of which are found below – which reveals more info when zoomed in, such as location and size.

Another mapping project mentioned is by artist Scott Kildall, as part of his more expansive Water Works project, focused some energy on creating a Map of San Francisco’s Cisterns here.

A model of cisterns as well.

The randomness of these traces is also interesting, with juxtapositions outside of the formal symmetry but off-grid and partially obscured, such as this image. via Kildalls site, where you can read more about his project

Cistern at 22nd and Dolores – via kildall.com

The significance of fire that created this system of cisterns that folks are discovering is driven by several major fires in the 1850s.  Thus the distributed reservoirs have been installed since the original founding of the City, seen in a key plan from July 1852 – from Burrito Justice (linking to a David Rumsey map of San Francisco 1853) and identifying intersections where these existed.

The fires culminated in the most notable fire is the aftermath of the 1906 Earthquake, discussed in this April 2017 CityLab story “The Ultimate Photo Map of the 1906 San Francisco Quake” which identifies photographs documenting the event.

Market Street on fire. Looking east to the Ferry Building from Fremont Street, April 18, 1906. (Willard E. Worden photograph. Glass negative courtesy of a private collector).  via Open SF History

Quoting Woody LaBounty from this Open SF History Post “Rise of the Phoenix: A Closer Look:

“One hundred and eleven years ago, in the early morning of April 18, San Francisco shook and trembled through a massive earthquake. Stone buildings shed their skins. Chimneys and brick walls collapsed on streets and adjoining buildings. Roadways split and sunk. People were gravely injured or killed by crumbling boarding houses, apartments, and warehouses…

The disaster became much worse as fires broke out from the Embarcadero to Hayes Valley and, aided by wind and inept attempts to create fire breaks with explosives, joined into larger maelstroms that gobbled up almost 500 city blocks of cottages, factories, tenements, hotels, stores, banks, and government buildings over the next three days.”

The extent of the fire is captured in this view from Oakland, via CityLab, showing “A view of the San Francisco earthquake’s aftermath from Oakland” (Credit – Oakland Museum of California)

There’s a pretty extensive history of the SF Fire Department via the SF Museum site (published in 1925) for some historical perspective and some illustrations of these early 1850s fires.

The City of San Francisco Fire Departments page drops a link to the cisterns as well as a video via the exploratorium, ‘The Science of Firefighting: Cisterns’ which has some FD folks “discuss the history and function of these cisterns, and demonstrate the drafting procedures used to access the water.”

Header image via Burrito Justice.

I posted some amazing images last year of changing course of the Willamette River captured with LIDAR, evoking wisps of smoke leaving a palimpsest of tracings across the landscape.  A recent article from National Geographic’s site ‘All Over the Map‘ entitled ‘See the Strange, Beautiful Landscapes Revealed by Lasers‘ reminded me of the beauty of this digital technique, showcasing some additional regional imagery and including hydrology and geology, this time focused in the State of Washington.  A few of the images included:

The Quinault River on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula has meandered extensively in the past, leaving behind dry, abandoned stream channels filled with river sediment that are revealed by LIDAR.
Channels in northwestern Washington formed when melting glaciers caused major floods. The channels are highlighted near the center of this LIDAR image.

The images are beautiful and intriguing, owing to the ability of LIDAR to penetrate vegetation layers to reach surface levels often unseen with traditional methods.  The beautiful imagery in the article is from the Washington Geological Survey site ‘The Bare Earth’ which is a descriptive resource on “How lidar in Washington State exposes geology and natural hazards”.

While useful for many types of analysis, this is particularly important to identification of landscape hazards, which had devastating impacts in 2014 in Oso, a town north of Seattle, and you can see some of the images highlighting landslide activity in the region.

A landslide covered with vegetation near Deming, Washington is revealed with LIDAR.
Old landslide scars on the Cedar River near Seattle are normally obscured by forest, but are plainly visible in this LIDAR image.

The most intriguing image to me was the Mima Mound Natural Area Preserve, which I hadn’t known about before reading this, which look much like a magnification of dermis instead of earth.

The mysterious Mima Mounds near Olympia, Washington are beautifully exposed in this LIDAR image. The origin of these mounds, which are 6 feet tall and 30 feet wide on average, is unclear and has been attributed to gophers, insects, wind, earthquakes, and the shrinking and swelling of clays.

The landscape itself is subtly rolling like an earthworks art project, and the reasons for their form is up for debate, as seen in the caption above.  The landscape itself is subtle and beautiful, definitely motivated to take a trip down to Olympia.

The pages on the great context on how LIDAR works with a story map of some visuals along with descriptive illustrations.  Per the WGS site,

“Lidar (light detection and ranging) is a technology that uses light pulses to collect three-dimensional information. Lidar data is often collected from an airplane using a laser system pointed at the ground. The system measures the amount of time it takes for the laser light pulses to reach the ground and return. Billions of these rapidly-collected measurements (points) can create extremely detailed three-dimensional models of the Earth’s surface. See the diagram below to better understand how airborne lidar is collected.”

A breakdown of the different maps that be extracted from the process.

The beauty of LIDAR is the ability to give an alternative view that is impossible to capture in other ways, particularly in deeply vegetated sites, with lots of coniferous vegetation. Again, from The Bare Earth site: “In geology, lidar bare-earth models allow closer study of geomorphology, which is the study of the origin of the topography of the earth. Landslides, faults, floods, glaciers, and erosion leave their mark on the landscape, and while these marks can be hidden by dense vegetation, they can’t hide from lidar.”

Harkening back to the previous posts of the geology of Seattle, the glacial retreat was a major factor in the Seattle-area geology and current hydrology.  The image below shows an aerial image, which reveals little of this feature, but the Lidar image shows the directional scarring and drumlin deposition around Hood Canal in sharp relief.

LIDAR shows the landscape around Hood Canal, a fjord in the Puget Sound, which is filled with elongated, rounded hills known as drumlins that were left behind by glaciers.

A video as well elaborates on the technique:

Check out more of Betsy Mason and Greg Miller at All Over the Map and follow them on Twitter @mapdragons

Header image, like many of the other images in the post, is from Washington Geological Survey, via National Geographic,.  The header shows “The floodplain and dry, former channels of the Chehalis River in western Washington State are revealed by this LIDAR-based elevation map.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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