A book and a blog

What inspired me to write a book about the hidden waterways within New York City? Read on… (more…)

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Bloessers Pond, Staten Island

In the Prince’s Bay section of Staten Island is a parcel preserved amid the tract houses that interrupts the local street grid. It is one of 15 designated natural areas on the island that are under the purview of the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation.

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Not much to see here but the signage is clear: this is Bloessers Pond, a 14-acre Wildlife Management Area that is a remnant of Sandy Brook, which drains into nearby Lemon Creek.

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Sylvan Water, Brooklyn

The largest cemetery in Brooklyn lies atop a knob-and-kettle terrain shaped by the last ice age, with dramatic views of New York Harbor and Manhattan. Like its contemporary Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx and the Evergreens cemetery on the Queens border, Green-Wood Cemetery has a landscape that respects topography with winding roads and four natural ponds that predate the cemetery.

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The largest of the cemetery’s ponds is Sylvan Water, as seen here in a 2007 Forgotten-NY tour. Each of the lakes is ringed by the resting places of some of the city’s most famous individuals, an calm view for their admirers, and those who visit to observe birds, architecture, and nature.

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Woodlawn Lake, Bronx

Near the northern border of Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx is a natural lake that shares its name with the cemetery and the surrounding neighborhood. It is a pleasant feature in the park-like graveyard that contains the remains and monuments for some of New York’s most famous people.

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This water feature and the cemetery itself are contemporaries of Brooklyn’s Green-Wood and Evergreens cemeteries, which also have the appearances of a “burial park.” And like any distinguished park, they preserved their ponds while the surrounding landscape filled up with bodies and monuments.

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Gabler’s Creek, Queens

In the hilly terrain separating Douglaston and Little Neck neighborhoods, Gabler’s Creek runs through a ravine on its way to Little Neck Bay at Udalls Cove. The marsh at the stream’s mouth straddles the city line. Thanks to determined local residents, the stream runs undisturbed within the Udalls Cove Park Preserve.

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Although the history of Udall’s Cove since 1969 appears to be a success story, it is not resolved. With 15 privately owned lots remaining within the ravine, development remains a threat to the cohesion of the preserve. Over the past half century, the city and state have acquired private parcels in a piecemeal manner.

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Murray Hill Distributing Reservoir, Manhattan

In the heart of Midtown the New York Public Library’s main branch is one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks. Prior to its construction in 1900 the  Murray Hill Distributing Reservoir stood on the site of the library. For 19th century New Yorkers the Egyptian Revival walls of the reservoir also appeared in contemporary guidebooks, attracting tourist crowds.

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Between 1842 and 1900, the four-acre reservoir held 20 million gallons of water for the growing island metropolis. Its previous sources at Collect Pond and various springs across town were running dry and becoming polluted from urbanization. Water contained at Murray Hill originated from Croton Reservoir in Westchester County.

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Huatanay, Cusco

The highest city that has hidden urban streams is the former imperial capital of the Incas. At more than 11,000 feet above sea level, Cusco, Peru is a magnet for tourism and home to a thriving Native culture deep in the Andean Mountains. The main river flowing through this city is the Huatanay. A trickle in comparison to the Amazon, but that’s what its water will eventually become.

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Within the city are nearly a dozen tributaries that date back to the Inca period, some of them running as ditches and other covered by modern streets.

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Pugsley Creek, Bronx

Among the streams feeding into the East River that flow through the Bronx, Pugsley Creek is obscure, with little information available on its history. All that remains of it today is an inlet of the East River that used to penetrate much further inland.

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The present head of this stream is deep inside Pugsley Creek Park, a 50-acre sanctuary of plants and wildlife separating the Soundview and Castle Hill neighborhoods. Continue reading

Rejected Races at Meadow Lake

In the 80-year history of Meadow Lake, there have been plans for the waterway that did not go beyond the planning phase. Having examined designs for a never-built mid-lake bridge, I will now look at the 1980s plan to install a racetrack around its shores.

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From the 1983 map by Wilson Racing, the outline of the lake appears unchanged, but can one imagine the impact on the park if the Grand Prix proposal had happened?

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Kamenka, Novosibirsk

The largest city in Siberia was built on the banks of the mighty Ob River. It also has its own hidden urban stream, the Kamenka. Its once-imposing gorge was filled in the 1960s and a highway built atop its former course two decades later.

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Adding to the insult, the river’s name was removed from the highway in 2007 and sets of luxury residential towers are popping up on undeveloped land that could have been used for daylighting the stream as a linear park. One hint of the Kamenka in the city is the Sibrevkom Street Bridge that spans the much shallower gorge that was carved by the Kamenka.

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Lasker Daylighting, Manhattan

Last month the Parks Department and Central Park Conservancy announced a $150 reconstruction plan for Lasker Rink in Central Park. Described by the AIA Guide to NYC as the park’s most “disastrous” improvement for a modernist design that clashes with the Victorian appearance of the park.

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Part of this ambitious reconstruction plan is the daylighting of a section of Montayne’s Rivulet that was covered by the pool in 1966. The rendering above looking north from Huddlestone Arch restores the view that Olmsted envisioned of the creek flowing into Harlem Meer.

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