The distant fourth and final part of the Waterlines class featured the work of Eric Wagner and Tom Reese for their book Once and Future River: Reclaiming the Duwamish.  I unfortunately was out of town for work during this session, so don’t have the specifics on their actual presentation but wanted to close the loop on the class and explore this last resource through looking at the book itself (although they may have talked about something totally different).

The Duwamish is a fitting addition to the discussions of Geology, Archaeology, and the Ship Canal previously discussed, as it is the one and only river in the City of Seattle.  It, much like the Duwamish people, also best signifies the history of manipulation, exploitation and degradation, and the current challenges to restore both culture and ecology along this urban waterway.  It’s also in sharp juxtaposition to the current boom, as summaried by Duamish Tribal member and director of the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition, James Rasmussen: “We need to always remember that the wealth of Seattle was created on the backs of the Duwamish River and the Duwamish People.”

Wagner discusses this evolution of the Duwamish River and people along with the greater City of Seattle through multiple essays.  They cover the inevitable growth leading the dispossession of the lands, the straightening and polluting of the river, the erasure of ecology and culture. It uncovers the long truth for Seattle about conquering nature, as has been discussed in the previous Waterlines lectures, here with Wagner mentioning it in the context of the Duwamish, “…to conquer something at least implies a respect for it… The Duwamish River cannot claim such dignity.” 

Now not even a river (classified a “waterway”) and a toxic Superfund site, the idea of restoration is difficult to imagine.  There is lots of hope and much work outlined in the book on the potential, in the words of William Jordan, to “heal the scars or erase the signs of disturbance.” 

There are a few maps early in the text, showing the 1856 Map of the region prior to the mass of European settlement, next to the 1958 Map, which shows development and channelization and virtual obfuscation of the natural systems.  As Wagner mentions, in the concept of restoration “In seeking such a reversal restoration becomes a question of time, and therefore a historical exercise as much as it is a moral or a spiritual one.  What point in a river’s past should we aim for?  When was it the best version of itself?  What processes from that period can we bring back now?”

A theme of the book then is put at the beginning of the introduction:

“We strive for a past we have never known, having only read about it, or seen in in faded pictures, or heard of it in stories about an old, shadowed river that once ran so full of life and magic that it filled the people who lived on it with awe, terror, and love.  When we arrived at that place — if we are capable of reaching it, if we can recognize it should we get there — we will have found a way of seeing something that has until now been ignored, dismissed, and very nearly lost: a river from end to beginning.”

Subsequent chapters cover the history of the River through a Salish parable called the “Epic of the Winds”, and the importance of this place in the life cycle for Chinook Salmon; land erasure and land making, the industrial heritage, large scale camouflage to win World War II (seen below, the ‘streetscape of a village draped on top of Boeing Plant 2 along the Duwamish, the facility constructing B-17 Bombers, to throw off potential attacks.

image via Boeing

This patriotic and economic value of the altered Duwamish in Plant 2, Terminal  and hundreds of other comes with a legacy of toxicity the persists and will continue for millenia.  In further essays we learn about poet Richard Hugo‘s regionalist riffs on the Duwmaish, and learn about John Beal‘s tireless work to save Hamm Creek, and modern day restoration efforts including hatcheries.  Will the River rebound?  How long will it take? Who knows, but as Wagner mentions:

“…the Duwamish River has always been a place to test the surprising range of the possible.  Settlers looked at acres of mud flats and forest and saw a city. City engineers looked at a floodplain and saw a waterway. Businessepeople looked at a waterway and saw a waste management system. Now, we look at a Superfund site and see a healthy river filled with fish that are safe to seat.  All those earlier versions came to pass.  Why should this latest not as well.”

While the first half is well illustrated with Tom Reese’s photos, the second part of the book is exclusively devoted to the photographs, capturing the range of themes, including the river itself, as well as the degradation and activities around its restoration.  Bolstering the text, this beautiful, damaged place offers sorrow as well as hope.  As Reese mentions in the Coda, “The Duwamish also informs our subconscious desire for connection and our intensifying undercurrent of worry.  it can transport us to places within and beyond our own lives, reminding us what is precious, asking for our devotion.”

Some of the photos from the book are peppered through this post are also on his website, so peruse on over there to catch more imagery, or just buy the book because it’s a great addition and has even more images that you’ll come back to more than once.

An extended video probably will help fill in some of the blanks also – from about a year ago at Town Hall  “…featuring Tom Reese and Eric Wagner, co-authors of “Once and Future River: Reclaiming the Duwamish”; James Rasmussen, Director of the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition; and Lynda Mapes, Seattle Times Environmental Reporter”

 

Header image  Copyright Tom Reese – “Last natural bend in lower Duwamish at Kellogg Island” – all other images, unless noted, are by Reese as well.

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

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

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

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

stpierretunnel_montreal

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

stpierre_photograph

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

london_map

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

londonsewerconstruction

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

toronto_map

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

sawmill_river

sawmill_river_cap

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

sawmill_river_daylighted

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

sawmill_river_education

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

riverquaggy_london_daylighted

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

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

brescia_sewer

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

brescia_photo

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

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

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

cheonggyecheon_river_seoul_remnants

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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