rivers

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

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

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

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

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

1. CREEKS

2. RIVERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Smellscapes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kate McLean

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Smellmap Amsterdam©KateMcLean2014 from RCA IED on Vimeo.

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

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

Victoria Henshaw

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


HEADER: Smell Map by Kate McLean – via Medium

 

 

 

 

An interesting project from Center for American Progress, The Disappearing West “maps a rapidly changing landscape, explores what is being lost, and profiles a new movement for conservation that is gaining ground.”  The project documents both land and rivers, with an eye on the impacts of development (urban, dams, mines, and more) on these systems, and provides data and maps on their current conditions.  From a water point of view, this information provides a new level of detail on river health in the Western United states.

Through the Disappearing Rivers project, the Center for American Progress is providing the first comprehensive snapshot of the condition of Western rivers. “

The documentation is compelling, and punctuated with some fun graphics, as seen in the amount of rivers modified from their natural states, including levels of headwaters, smaller rivers and streams, and major rivers. The results are staggering. “Often portrayed as continuous lines on a map, modern-day rivers are fragmented and impaired versions of their former selves. Waterways that once supported navigation and enabled adventurers to explore the West are no longer passable in their entirety. In fact, the average length of a river in the West has been reduced by 84 percent.”  

And some of the graphics have a bit of whimsy – highlighting the impacts of dams on fish… and reinforcing what we already knew, that it is oh, so very sad that they just wait, and wait for that dam to be removed.

The maps as part of this project are the focus of what I wanted to include, as they are compelling visually.  I first heard of this project via Twitter, from a link from the mapmaker John Gage from Gage Cartographics, (via Twitter @gageCarto) who described using 400,000 flowlines from the National Hydrography Dataset to create the mapping for the entire west coast (see header image above) with layers of embedded data using the amazing suite of tools from Mapbox GL.  Stream-level data, like this snapshot of the Portland area and extent of floodplain alteration, sit on a dark background for good contrast, and shift with a gradient from red (high degrees of alteration) to blue (low degree), and highlighting the impacts of urban development on rivers and streams in a beautifully tragic way.

The same view, again of Portland, showing flow restriction, which is less problematic, but is highlighted with some key spots, interestingly enough the outflow from the Sandy River east of Portland.

Larger, thematic maps provide watershed and other coverage, including extent of floodplain alteration. As you can see from the Seattle image below, the extent of alteration of urban floodplains, not surprisingly, is greatest in urban areas, and the Salish Sea coastal areas show up to 90-100% levels of alteration.

There’s also mapping of dams by size of their capacity, again with a dark background highlighting the point data.

The map functionality allows for selecting layers and different base maps, along with extracting specific information from map elements.

The use of hover pop-ups is great as well, conveying location-specific information such as stream info, or watershed-level data for impacts in Washington like the map below showing irrigated lands.

My focus is on some northwest zones, but the project spans the entire west, and there’s also an animated tour of the Colorado River, which employs some interesting story mapping techniques.  The animated slides take you through the story of what is “…Sometimes called ‘America’s hardest working river,'” and describes the conditions that cause “…over half (54%) of the Colorado River is dammed, diverted or otherwise altered from its natural state.”  Using a number of different maps themes, views, and animations, along with text and photos, it paints a compelling story of the impacts of the river, including a major impact, dams.

There’s a ton of info, including links to download the map data as well, via a site for the Disappearing Rivers of the Western United States, which “Disappearing Rivers is the culmination of an analysis by Conservation Science Partners, in association with the Center for American Progress, to investigate how human development has altered rivers in the eleven western states. The objective of Disappearing Rivers is to quantify the degree to which human activities have altered rivers in the western US. We separated this objective into two primary components: flow alteration and floodplain alteration. The Disappearing Rivers gallery contains river and stream flowlines data with associated flow and floodplain alteration attributes.”  The site is loaded with good info, and the maps and graphics help tell a compelling story that complements the data.  The power of maps, and the overall ability to convey tons of information on easy to use, online maps, still blows me away.  Check this out – worth some time.


HEADER: Snapshot of West Coast Flow Restriction – Disappearing Rivers

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

A recent announcement that the Department of Interior is planning a massive reorganization has received a bunch of attention.  While Secretary Zinke has done a number of dubious things in his short time at Interior, this one at least, having some origins based on the concepts of John Wesley Powell, initially made me pause to consider if it may have merit.  If you can stomach watching Zinke talk for over five minutes, the video from DOI explaining the move is here. Or you can read this, where I first read about the concept, via an article Outside Magazine:  “Ryan Zinke’s Watershed Plan Is 140 Years Too Late”  To summarize the background:

“The latest object of the interior secretary’s affection is John Wesley Powell. A Civil War veteran who lost his right arm at the Battle of Shiloh, Powell is best known as a geologist and geographer who led expeditions in the American Southwest, including the first documented float down Grand Canyon. Those travels inspired Powell, in an 1878 report, to recommend the West be settled in a fashion that would organize the desiccated territory by watershed. Doing so, he argued, would make for a more collaborative and ecologically sound way of managing resources, especially in a region where the most precious resource is water. “

This basin map, seen below from an old NPR story about “The Vision of John Wesley Powell“, shows the “Map of the Arid Region of the United States showing drainage districts, 1890-91”, which is the impetus mentioned by Zinke, and explained per the article: “In 1878, Powell published his Report on the Lands of the Arid Region, which laid out a concrete strategy for settling the West without fighting over scarce water. Powell wanted to stall the waves of homesteaders moving across the plains and mountains. Instead, he wanted to plan settlement based in part on the cooperative model practiced in Utah by Mormon settlers, who tapped mountain snowmelt and the streams, lakes and rivers it created with irrigation ditches leading to crops. Powell wanted to organize settlements around water and watersheds, which would force water users to conserve the scarce resource, because overuse or pollution would hurt everyone in the watershed. Powell believed this arrangement would also make communities better prepared to deal with attempts to usurp their water.”

While some see it as pure politics, and view it with skepticism, others acknowledge some merit. Per Outside: ““Intellectually, the idea of organizing more in terms of the landscape in the West—that works,” says John Freemuth, executive director of the Cecil D. Andrus Center for Public Policy at Boise State University. “But the devil is in the details. The damage that could be done to relationships and how agencies do business, that doesn’t look like it’s been well thought out yet.”  There is mention of the complications of the current water system, where far away water is transported hundreds of miles to other locations, which perhaps makes basin boundaries obsolete, and is antithetical, in essence to Powell’s original notions, (thus the ‘too late’ tagline). As mentioned. ““For Powell, the water would not be taken out of the watershed or out of the basin and transferred across mountains…hundreds of miles away to allow urban growth to take place,” Donald Worster, a Powell biographer, told NPR in 2003. “So L.A., if it existed at all, would have been a much, much smaller entity. Salt Lake City would be smaller. Phoenix would probably not even exist.”

The Washington Post also weighed in, mentioning on January 10th the “Interior plans to move thousands of workers in the biggest reorganization in its history”, and some of the implications of “the largest reorganization in the department’s 168-year history, moving to shift tens of thousands of workers to new locations and change the way the federal government manages more than 500 million acres of land and water across the country.”  In short, the “…proposal would divide the United States into 13 regions and centralize authority for different parts of Interior within those boundaries. The regions would be defined by watersheds and geographic basins, rather than individual states and the current boundaries that now guide Interior’s operations”.

Skeptics are probably right to wonder if this is an effective change, but some of the criticism of it being hard to do, moving offices, costs, issues like splitting states into two zones sort of miss the point, if the goal is a broad basin-specific planning mechanism.  The concept that there’s a political agenda is obvious, and some of the talk of this being a covert way of downsizing government and eroding the mission are valid.  Other criticisms, such as removal of Bureau of Indian Affairs offices, as mentioned in the article are more troubling.  As quoted: “This proposal is concerning because it appears to eliminate the Navajo Regional Office of the Bureau of Indian Affairs,” said  Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.). “A change of this magnitude should only come after extensive, meaningful government-to-government consultation with the affected tribes.  On its face, this looks more like a dismantling than a reorganization.”

Environmental groups as well echo the idea that it may seem ok on the surface, but is at it’s root political.  As quoted: ““A regional approach to managing Interior might indeed make sense, but the jury is out on this reorganization,” Sharon Buccino, senior director for lands at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in an email. “Virtually everything Secretary Zinke has done to date has been to advance fossil fuel interests — above the stewardship of our public lands, preservation of wildlife and protection of clean air and water.””

It’s dubious whether this would happen, but there’s some intriguing notions it brings up, perhaps in a less divisive political climate, as to where this could actually be beneficial.  The Washington Post article linked to the overlay of current bureau configurations and the proposed idea of ‘Common Regions’, as mentioned.  The patchwork of overlaid jurisdictional boundaries would obviously be a change, but fundamentally there’s some wisdom (perhaps Powell’s wisdom) at work in thinking about this

Whether it goes anywhere is dubious, as it’s an interesting idea wrapped up in massive government reorganization that brings with it so much baggage as to sink it before it starts. As Outside concludes, “Perhaps it’s best to think of Zinke’s watershed-based West as a thought experiment.”   Or possibly, it’s a question of being too soon, and that a more thought-out approach could possibly be implemented over the course of the next decade to address concerns but keep it from just being that unrealized concept.

BEYOND POLITICS

I’ve long been a proponent of the concept of transforming political boundaries more in line with hydrological ones, as the idea of connecting choices made with the impacts to watersheds, first presenting the concept in a presentation at the 2006 National ASLA Conference.  The genesis of the idea is the that these basins and watersheds are nested systems, with larger units encompassing many smaller elements, and in turn being encompassed by larger systems. The idea of neighborsheds (i.e. neighborhood watersheds) involve a small scale redrawing our local boundaries using subwatersheds instead of arbitrary street or orthagonal boundaries that we currently employ.  This provides an opportunity to reimagine our local places in alignment with nature, and also helps residents understand their place at a scale that is knowable.  The connection to local flows provides a context, and the nesting systems allow one to link thier actions to the larger whole.

There are some obvious organizational structures in place that adopt this nested, such as the idea of USGS Hydrologic Units (HU) that organize elements like the Watershed Boundaries used in the National Hydrography Database.  The map below shows the largest resolution, the regional scale, of which there are 21 in the United States, know by a system of codes, or HUCs.

Some info via a really good page on Wikipedia on Hydrological Codes, this scales down from the original 21 regional HUs, to 222 subregions, 370 basins, 2,200 subbasins, 22,000 watersheds and around 160,000 subwatersheds.   The range in scale is also interesting, with a Region averaging a size of approximately 177,560 square miles, a typical basin spanning 10,000 square miles, down to 220 square mile watersheds and 40 square mile subwatersheds.  The Pacific Northwest is HU-17 expands to grab most of the Columbia River basin flowing west from the Rocky Mountains (which also reaches far up into Canada but is not shown on this map).

This breakdown the the nested scales provides a nice summary of that breakdown.

 

The Water Resource Inventory Area (WRIA) structure in Washington is an extension of this idea as well, with the ability to delineate a watershed focus on conservation. An image of WRIA boundaries overlaid with county lines in Washington State is instructive as to the difference between political lines drawn.

These denote the smallest HU scale of subwatershed, which as we discussed are around 40 square miles each, which is still rather large, but at least somewhat more comprehensible than larger basins. The WRIAs for the Puget Sound show the very organic structure of basin-focused districts (which is also the final scale of the Hydrological Unit map showing Subwatersheds), with the only hard-line in this case being the Canadian border to the north.

An zoomed into the smaller scale around Seattle, the two districts include WRIA 8, the Lake Washington and the Cedar River Basin, which encompasses much of the City, and the WRIA 9, the Duwamish-Green River Basin which drains the south segment of the city.  While it may complicate things as a current city and a county boundaries and require some intergovernmental agreements from many parties, the ability to isolate hydrological areas makes planning for these watersheds in terms of impacts to ecosystems much easier.  In some sense these could be a reimagined county structure by these subwatersheds, which isn’t actually a bad idea, if only as a though experiment.


The nesting could continue infinitely and get down unit you get to the smallest drainage, which could encompass a few blocks in the city.  More on this to comes as I continue to expand on the neighborshed concept. While the politicized proposal from Interior seems doomed to failure, there is some merit to these types of proposals that transcend politics and assess the concept of watershed specific boundaries in terms of thinking outside the box, and inside the basin.


HEADER:  Image of Powell’s Arid Lands Map – via Outside Magazine

 

 

So much London – and time to wrap up the comprehensive overview and move on to other things.  For the last post, similar to New York, I’ve compiled a fun summary of the maps, depicting hidden hydrology and others, that existing in London.  Some maps and mapping projects have already been discussed in the previous posts, either in the plethora of books, as well as some of the art & explorations.  The article from the Londonist entitled “The Best Old Maps of London” is a good starting point, which highlights the quintessential map, John Roque’s map of 1746

Close ups reveal the detail of this map, which is widely cited as a resource of locating lost rivers.  For locating these historic maps, there’s no better resource that Locating London’s Past, which “This website allows you to search a wide body of digital resources relating to early modern and eighteenth-century London, and to map the results on to a fully GIS compliant version of John Rocque’s 1746 map.”

Going back a bit is a great Agas Map depicting “Civitas Londinum is a bird’s-eye view of London first printed from woodblocks in about 1561. Widely known as the “Agas map,” from a spurious attribution to surveyor Ralph Agas (c.1540-1621), the map offers a richly detailed view both of the buildings and streets of the city and of its environment. No copies survive from 1561, but a modified version was printed in 1633…”   An online version of the map, offers the ability to zoom in and highlight specific features.  An excerpt of the map shows the level of detail (and lots of boats).

And while not a historical map, this creation and update by the Londonist of Anglo-Saxon London take us in a time-machine “…showing the London area in Anglo Saxon times (roughly speaking, 500-1066AD). It’s pieced together from many resources, showing our guess at the roads, rivers, forests and marshland that characterised the region. The main purpose was to highlight the many villages, hamlets and farmsteads whose names are still part of modern London.”  A snipped below shows the idea, and a high-res download is also available.
And similarly illustrative, I really love this sketch (although I’ve yet to find what it is from) from a Twitter post by Poly-Olbion, captioned “Where the Thames and the Isis marry.”  Anyone help me out on a source, would be grateful.
A post on “London Maps You Should Know” from the London Historians’ Blog, has a long list of additional historic maps, including another old one, coming soon after the Agas map, by the Civitates Orbis Terrarum I by  Braun and Hogenberg depicts London circa 1560, published first in 1572.
The London Sound Survey has tons of great resources including their Sound maps, as well as amazing historical maps of London.  The 1849 Cruchley map has a pleasing aesthetic, as seen below:
This one via JF Ptak Science Books, is of “A Great Map of the “Other” London Underground: the Sewer System, 1990“, which shows the snarl of underground and some great history. “The map appears in the Report of the Results of an Examination Made in 1880 of Several Sewerage Works in Europe, by Rudolph Hering, in the Annual Report of the National Board of Health 1881 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1882), pp. 99-223.”

A fun and more clear version is this map Underground London, which does include items like “Underground River” and Sewer, takes a different graphical style.  “This light-hearted map, originally produced for Heritage magazine, charts the secrets under London’s streets in the style of Frank Beck’s famous tube map. It has since been taken up by Metro, the Independent on Sunday and thetube.com.  Illustrative rather than definitive, it includes the (now-closed) Post Office Railway, a selection of the capital’s buried rivers, Joseph Bazalgette’s sewer system and some of the curiosities of the Northern Line. In a similar style is a Beck-style map of London’s canals and navigable rivers, currently not publically available pending discussions between British Waterways and Transport for London.”

The hand-drawn versions are also fun, including this one of the Fleet River, via Londonist, shows a version involved “…a bit of research to trace the path of the lost River Fleet as it meanders under the streets of London. As you can see the map is completely hand drawn in pencil as well as the street indicators. The river is indicated by the rubbed out streets.”

As I’ve mentioned previously, the aerial perspectives are fun, and this on from the British Library of a “Balloon View of London, from the North” from 1851 provides a nice snapshot of the rapidly industrializing city.

Other locations for online maps come in a diversity of sources, including Subterranea Britannica,  Layers of London,  from the National Library of Scotland, (NLS) In the broader context, the Ordnance Survey (OS) is a great resource for modern and historic maps, and also check their GB1900 site that is an effort to “We need help in collecting all the names of places and features in Britain from the Ordnance Survey’s six-inch to a mile maps of around 1900”.  A version of London here from the NLS site, shows a highly detailed OS map from 1888-1913 timeframe, and below a 1:25000 version from the 1937-1961 range, depicting a similar level of detail as USGS maps.

And the realm of climate change would not be complete without one of Jeffrey Linn’s Spatialities view of sea-level rise inundated transformation of the Thames into “London Bay”.

A few outside the realm of hidden hydrology, but worth a reference, you can read about British maps and map-makers    as well as check out some other maps.  An interesting initiative for London National Park City, which is an interesting endeavor that hits on corridors and green spaces.  Some background via Geographical “‘The only difference really between a national park and a national park city,’ explains Daniel Raven-Ellison, Chief Exploration Officer of the National Park City Foundation, ‘is the acknowledgement that the urban environment, the urban habitat, the urban landscape, is just as important as rainforest, or polar regions, or a desert area. It’s not more important, it’s not less important, but we shouldn’t alienate ourselves from nature just because we are the dominate species within this landscape. “

Another that’s pretty interesting is London North/South, which shows a color coded split at the Thames, along with some reference points like stations. Not sure the usefulness, but it’s a beautiful map.

Another resource is the London Tree Map “This map is an initial attempt to visually present London tree data. The majority of the data is for street trees but also includes some park trees. The map shows the locations and species information for over 700,000 trees. The recent London iTree report estimated that there are over eight million trees in London, so the map is only a partial illustration of trees in London.”

An interesting bit of history, in terms of practical mapping, and a precursor to our handheld maps we use today, a post from The National Archives, a  “…leather glove painted with a map of London landmarks and was designed to help fashionable ladies find their way to and from the Great Exhibition held in London’s Hyde Park in 1851.”

 


HEADER:  The Agas Map of Early Modern London 

 

 

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.

The final installment of books looking at London hidden hydrology is Walking on Water: London’s Hidden Rivers Revealed, by Stephen Myers.  As part of the parade of books on the topic published in 2011, this takes a very different approach than the tour/photo guides of Talling and Bolton, reflecting Myers’ background as an engineer.  If you’ve checked out the previous post on the Barton book, you’ll recognize some of this similar analysis, as the 2016 3rd Edition of ‘The Lost Rivers of London’ includes Myers as a co-author, and seems a hybrid of this book and Barton’s earlier versions.

On that note, Myers approaches the project from that engineering perspective, and its loaded with info.  A blurb from Amazon“London’s hidden – or lost – rivers are a source of fascination. This book concentrates on seven North London rivers – the Fleet, the Walbrook, the Tyburn, the Westbourne, Counter’s Creek, Stamford Brook and the Black Ditch. The author, a professional water engineer, describes their sources and traces their individual histories, setting out their influence on the development of London and their use and abuse by society, eventually leading to their disappearance. The original watercourses of each of the seven rivers are shown on London street maps to a detail never previously attempted. Research to enable this included extensive on-site analysis of their river catchment topographies and desk-top studies of numerous old maps and literary references. Walking on Water ends on an optimistic note. Drawing on his professional experience, the author proposes a practical, affordable and exciting approach to recreating riverside parks and walks in the London boroughs through which the hidden rivers passed, which uses their source waters to refresh the lakes of the Royal Parks.”

Myers breaks down the history of hidden rivers, discusses a good amount on geology and the form of the rivers, and discusses their ‘uses and abuses’, all info covered in other places, but again with a unique focus here.  The second half of the book includes specific rivers, an overall map shows some of the North Bank Rivers (click to enlarge) covered, including all the usual suspects from other books.

Also of interest is a comparative profile, showing the central London Rivers.  The relationship of the rivers in terms of altitude from headwaters to outfall is a complement to plan relationships, and particularly in the context of London where all the rivers flow into the same source, the Thames, it allow for some good comparison.

The development of the City of London is of great interest, named the chapter ‘A City Grows, Its Rivers Beggared’ and how this rapid urbanization impacted the rivers both in demand for fresh water and degradation due to pollution.  The diagram below (which would have aided with some color and texture) shows the expansion of the city, notably the sprawling growth between 1800 and 1900 (marked by the gray inner zone and outer black line).

And while the chapter on ‘Mapping London’s Hidden Rivers’ is helpful in outlining the methodology, the results that come from this work are less than stellar.  All the diagrams and maps here are black and white, using a base map derived from the Geographers A-Z Map Co (similar to Barton & Myers) which again offers legibility and usability issues that leave a lot to be desired.  While the maps in the 2016 book were in color, they seemed overly detailed and took away from the routes of the rivers. In this case, black and white flattens it all out and their small size makes the cramped and difficult to use.  A good hybrid would be a black and white base with the paths drawn in color, perhaps?

As Myers makes a point multiple times, “it was a considerable surprise to learn that there were no large-scale maps, readily accessible to the general public, which showed their routes through the metropolis.” (14)  Perhaps Barton’s original 1962 book insert doesn’t totally qualify as ‘accessible’, but it does, and much more successfully, provide a large scale map of the routes that Myers was missing. He does mention obviously using Barton, and also references a book I had not heard about previously, London Under London by a very appropriately named duo for the task, Trench & Hillman.  Another reference was to a future volume, “Walking on Water – the Hidden Water Walks” to follow this one, but I’ve not found any mention that that project came to fruition.  So perhaps that was going to be the vehicle for better, user friendly maps, that never materialized.

For each river chapter, he does include the sections of the routes, again in very small size, which I think are very helpful for visualizing the routes of streams.

The final chapter does offer a strategy for a project entitled the Hamstead Water Conduit, where he speculates on a proposal that could “recreate short, clean stretches of the Central London rivers – more particularly the Fleet, the Tyburn, the Westbourne, and possibly, the Walbrook, the City of London’s own river.” (200).  He goes on to mention that “the source waters for the Fleet, the Tyburn and the Westbourne rivers are the springs and surface water which drain naturally from Hampstead Health.  These are the only source water of the hidden rivers that have been protected from pollution and which remain eminently accessible today.” (201)

A diagram shows a proposed route, which connects existing daylit portions with new or reconfigured surface channels in places, fed by the springs mentioned above.  While not a continuous river, the result is a linear water course that works with the boundaries of the existing city fabric while taking advantage of opportunities to create surface waters.  A “…‘feel-good’ project” but one with environmental benefits, flood mitigation, recreation, tourism, and infrastructure reduction. As noted by Myers, the social benefits as well, allowing us to “lift spirits in depressing times, but also contribute a small stimulus towards better economic times.” (208)

A more technical diagram shows some of the interconnections between the old and new systems, as well as the make-up water using existing groundwater stores (a metaphorical routing) and creating a water balance that kept water uses constant while using excess flows to ‘restore’ river segments.

 

The strength of this book, as indicated in the above analysis, is a solid, technical background in both the formation of rivers, the geological and hydrological framework in which these waterways emerged, the development implications that drove them underground, and some realistic considerations on why it would be difficult to daylight them, as they have been so fully consumed into the existing sewer systems. But also, some defensible and plausible daylighting strategies that take these multitude of factors into play.

The glossary ‘Watery Definitions’ on page 20 is a good touch, and discussion of what is a creek, stream, river, etc. is one that few tend to delve into in any detail.  As he mentions, due to size and typology, “it might seem more approrpriate to make reference to London’s ‘Hidden Streams’ rather than to London’s hidden rivers, as the flows in them could not really be described as ‘copious’ and their water surface widths generally lay in the narrow band of between 2 and 6 metres.  However, these watercourses have been referred to historically and collectively as ‘rivers’, and so this book will perpetuate that possibly inaccurate usage.” (22)

The Disclaimer at the beginning was interesting as well, as it seemed appropriate for anyone with a background in design and engineering to include the cover-your-ass language about accuracy, liability and not using the information for specific purposes.  This shows up also in the later Barton & Myers version of Lost Rivers, but does bring up a point about representation and what it could mean.  The accuracy of old maps .  He also warns about sewer exploration, I guess as well a necessary caveat for disseminating this type of information.

Each book I’ve covered offers something unique to the conversation, and this provides a great resource for those interested in London, but also a wider context of the emergence of urban creeks and rivers which seem applicable to all places.  A level of technical rigor also makes this a valuable companion to other resources that focus on places, history, landmarks and culture.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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