Another fine resource that adds to the hidden hydrology knowledge base in New York City is Sergey Kadinsky’s Hidden Waters of New York City, which “serves as a guide to the stream by tracing their development along their courses” (xiii). The book takes a different yet complementary direction than the Welikia project and other efforts I’ve mentioned and will follow up on. Publishes in March, 2016, the book summary via Amazon provides some context: “Beneath the asphalt streets of Manhattan, creeks and streams once flowed freely. The remnants of these once-pristine waterways are all over the Big Apple, hidden in plain sight”
Kadinsky’s day job is at the New York City Parks Department, has experience as a tour guide, also teaches and contributes to Forgotten New York, all of which provides a good context for open spaces, as well as a forum for the stories of hidden and forgotten waterways of the area. As he mentions in the brief introduction:
“The city’s waterways have become a place where the public is reminded of nature’s presence in the city.” He continues mentioning specifically that inland areas, where “…waterways are not as visible, having been buried beneath the streets and concealed behind building. If one searches carefully, one can hear sounds of hidden streams churning beneath manholes and see traces of them in street names that recall a water past.” (xiii).
Covering Manhattan, The Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island in different sections, the breadth of the book is it’s major take-home. Any New Yorker would be doing themselves a favor by picking up a copy and being surprised to find out that you don’t have go far to find an interesting historical place you probably didn’t know about. The short blurbs about each area come with a variety of factoids, as well as good local destinations and options for travel via bus, subway, and bike.
The content is great, albeit brief as the book covers, as mentioned on the cover, “101 Forgotten Lakes, Ponds, Creeks, and Streams”. The typical post gives a tour of the place, some history, and delves into some specific topics, for instance the early chapters on the Collect Pond, Harlem Creek, Minetta Brook, and Canal Street (all links to the blog) provide great anecdotes about infrastructure, geology, cultural history, and the forces that led to the eventual burial of these places. Some are hidden, others are brought back metaphorically or through places names, and many still remain hidden. Others are more brief, with the history of the place and some brief info suffice.
A review of the book by Eric Sanderson and Christopher Spagnoli via The Nature of Cities from November 2016 entitled “Where did all the Streams Go?” offers a bit more context on the book from folks that are admittedly more local in viewpoint. As mentioned: “Kadinsky’s descriptions of waters invoke the flow of time” and provide the following, which capture the nature of the stories held within the book:
“Perusing Hidden Waters is fun for both the armchair historian and the modern urban eco-adventurer. Without sermonizing, there is a distinct historical rhythm to these accounts. Most begin with a colonial description of a typically beautiful, formerly long-lasting, watery feature of the environment, many of which formed during the last Ice Age—that has been co-opted for industrial purposes. Nineteenth century New Yorkers largely regarded waterways as places to get power, launch vessels, and/or dispose of sewage and garbage. Once these ponds, streams, and other waters were fouled, the city government and private actors, on the hunt for more land to develop, filled and paved them, a process that played itself out in fits and starts from the late 19th century through most of the 20th century. The natural waters we have left now are largely the result of neglect—so little time, so many streams to fill—until the environmental movement of the late 20th century finally created the legal and regulatory tools to stop their destruction.”
Perhaps a case where the blog is better than the book as the “companion blog for the book ‘Hidden Waters of NYC’ provides more room and allows Kadinsky to venture beyond the format the book constrains him to both geographically and visually. For me the depth of information in the book pales in comparison and seems lacking in what Kadinsky covers in the blog, with more informal stories and visuals. As a field guide, it seems a bit too text heavy, and lacking in really good contextual maps where one could follow along and tour through the narrative in a way that allows the story to unfold. This may be more a personal preference, however, the the overlay of new/old is fundamental to engaging with this type of historical ecological information, perhaps best addressed by the compelling map visuals of the Welikia Project. Although it’s available on the blog, it is the one thing sorely missed in the book.
The notable narratives that I’ve read on the blog are many, but include a fascinating account of Robert Frost’s 1923 poem ‘A Brook in the City’ which recounts Minetta Creek, a post recounting some Map Oddities, some cool examples of interpretive paving on Broad Street, the many posts about Central Park, many more I’ve bookmarked.
He also includes a two part reading list with some great additions to the local and broader context, including connections to Stanley Greenberg and others beyond the realm of water. In highlighting the book I’m aiming to showcase what i think is a great contribution, namely writing about hidden hydrology, and also to provide some thoughts about what works in curating and narrating these stories of place. It’s hard to capture in book form, the spirit of what is lost, the history of then, erasure, time and what is still there (a dilemma faced by much of the hidden hydrology literature). In the end any text that endeavors to do so needs maps, and lots of them, to support this effort.
Read the blog and follow him on Twitter @SergeyKadinsky and you’ll see more of this great example of a passion for place and hidden hydrology that connects people to their home places, Kadinsky’s book and blog aid in this. He mentions this connection in the intro, and his work helps make true that “inland waterways today have resumed their role as vital elements of the city’s identity; providers of a sense of place.”