Hidden Urban Waters of 2015

In journalism, the week of December 31 is often described as the slowest news week of the year. Editors and reporters fill in the blank spaces of newspapers with year in review articles, in case you forgot or missed the stories that left their impact on history.

On the topic of my book, cities around the world are rediscovering their hidden waters through art, architecture and ambitious daylighting projects. Below is a sampling of such stories.

Guangzhou, China

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The Donghao Chung, once an ancient moat, and later a sewer, has been daylighted and transformed into a linear park reminiscent of Cheonggyecheon in Seoul. Like its Korean counterpart, the stream spent much of the past century hidden beneath the surface, with a busy roadway running atop its course.

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Hello From the Other Side… of the River

You may have noticed that in yesterday’s post, the hyperlink for River Lea, the forgotten stream in London, England, links to a song by top-selling vocalist Adele.

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She represents a long tradition of artists inspired by hidden urban streams. Here in New York City, there are two streams that appear in poetry which I would like to share, along with a few recent examples. Continue reading

For Your Hidden Waters Bookshelf

When the authors of The Other Islands of New York City offered acknowledgements to other authors who touched on the same topic, their caption read, “No Author is an Island.” Matching their pun with the city’s urban streams, I would offer the following “tributaries.” These are books on individual waterways which I used as sources and inspirations for my book, which covers all of the city’s hidden streams.

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The above book by photographer Anthony Hamboussi is one of many that traveled along the course of Newtown Creek, documenting the industrial waterway on the Brooklyn-Queens border. Continue reading

Robert Frost’s Hidden Waters

Although my book was published in a time when cities around the world are rediscovering their hidden streams, in truth lost urban streams inspired explorers, historians, architects and poets for time immemorial. Decades before Joni Mitchell composed, and later the Counting Crows sang about a parking lot paved atop paradise, poet Robert Frost composed an urban explorer’s paean to a lost urban stream.

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Forgotten-NY Visits Reed’s Mill Lane

This week, Forgotten-NY published a photo essay on Reed’s Mill Lane, an obscure street in the Eastchester section of the Bronx. As its name suggests, it once took travelers to a mill that dammed Rattlesnake Brook.

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Most of the brook is channeled beneath the neighborhood, with the exception of Seton Falls Park, where the brook’s course includes a small waterfall.

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Mott Haven Canal

You won’t find Chinese food here, but as with Canal Street in Manhattan, Canal Place in the South Bronx and its parallel, Canal Place West, serve as reminders of a waterway long buried beneath the industrial properties of the neighborhood.

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Proposed in 1850 by Mott Haven founder Jordan L. Mott, it was carved out in the early 1870s. This man-made inlet of the Harlem River penetrated as far north as 144th Street.  Along its shoreline, cranes picked up freight from barges and loaded the goods into warehouses.

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Two bascule bridges spanned the relatively narrow canal with lock-like tide gates underneath to keep out high tides. In contrast to Gowanus Canal, which was originally a natural stream and has water pumped from East River to maintain a steady flow, the Mott Haven Canal did not have a current and its standing water quickly gained a reputation for its odor. Continue reading

New York Post visits Silver Lake, Staten Island

Yesterday, the New York Post visited Silver Lake on Staten Island to report how its low water level is revealing decades-old debris lying on its bottom, such as discarded toys, a motorcycle, and old road signs. Formerly a natural lake in the Grymes Hill neighborhood, it was redesigned in 1917 to serve as a 56-acre reservoir. Unused since 1971, it is the centerpiece of Silver Lake Park.

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In its natural state, the lake was the headwaters of the eastern branch of Clove Brook, which continued towards the smaller Valley Lake, then into Clove Lakes Park, and then north towards Port Richmond and Kill Van Kull. Portions of the brook have since been buried by the Silver Lake Golf Course and residential development.

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Goose Pond, Jamaica Hills

To the west of affluent Jamaica Estates is the slightly more affordable neighborhood of Jamaica Hills, which also sits atop the terminal moraine of the most recent ice age glacier. The southern limit of the moraine is marked by Hillside Avenue. On the north side of this road is a knob and kettle terrain while the southern side has a landscape that gently slopes down towards the ocean.

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The only remaining kettle pond in Jamaica Hills is located inside Captain Tilly Park, a nine-acre site perched on a slope beneath the former Jamaica High School. In the center of Goose Pond is a bird sanctuary isle that is the smallest island within the smallest natural body of water in the city.

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The land around the park belonged to its namesake family in the 19th century and later to the Highland Park Society, an organization of local landowners that maintained the park. Captain George H. Tilly served in the Army Signal Group during then Spanish-American War of 1898. On May 27, 1899, Tilly and a small unit landed in the town of Escalante on Negros Island to repair a damaged telegraph cable. He was killed by Filipino rebels who felt betrayed that instead of liberating their country, the United States replaced the Spanish as colonists.

Over the decades, Goose Pond lost its natural source of water and algae bloomed in it. Much of the surrounding park had also fallen in disrepair as the city failed to maintain the park. In 1996, the Jamaica Hills Community Association and Council Member Morton Povman allocated funding for the park. The restoration included draining and deepening, installation of a new clay liner and filtration system. Carp and bluegill sunfish were reintroduced to the pond, among other native wildlife. A new well provided water for the pond and an island in its center served as a wildlife sanctuary. Each fall, the park hosts Jamaica Family Day, a fair for local residents.

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Although the pond is very shallow and surrounded by development, it offers a hint at the landscape that once covered Jamaica Hills for nearly 10,000 years. Earlier this year, the lawn to the south of the pond was reconstructed, a project that included the elimination of invasive plants and improving drainage.


Jackson Pond, Queens

At the southeast corner of Forest Park in the Queens neighborhood of Richmond Hill is Jackson Pond Playground. Bound on the south by Myrtle Avenue and on the north by the park’s pine grove, this playground serves as a reminder of a kettle pond that once occupied this site.

Jackson PondPhoto circa 1960 – Courtesy Frank Loeber Collection, AS SEEN ON RICHMOND HILL HISTORICAL SOCIETY.

The pond was located in a natural depression, shaped like an oval, and used as an ice skating rink following the development of Richmond Hill in 1869. On the southern side of Myrtle Avenue facing the pond, the Forest Park Lodge served as the countryside home of Abram S. Hewitt. A former congressman and New York City mayor, he was described by one contemporary as “the most useful man in Washington.”

The City of Brooklyn, in its last major parks expansion prior to its merger with New York City, acquired Brooklyn Forest in 1895, laying its out as Forest Park. The former Hewitt home then served as the office of park superintendent Jarvis Jackson, whose name was given to the pond.

From 1922, the Parks Department issued repetitive proposals to fill in Jackson Pond, failing each time in the face of community opposition as residents feared losing their beloved ice skating spot. Yet changes did take place. In 1931, the pond’s muddy bottom was coevered with brownstone pebble gravel. In 1941, a concrete shoreline was installed in a design similar to Kissena Lake and Bowne Pond.

In 1966, the lake was dried and covered with concrete after the city determined it to be an unsafe ice-skating site. Basketball courts were installed on the oval-shaped outline of the lake.

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Aerial surveys of Jackson Pond in 1951 and 1996.

The playground was renovated in 2001 with two small fountains to commemorate the pond that was once there.


Around the Site

Jackson Pond Playground lies near the unusually-angled intersection of Park Lane South and Myrtle Avenue, by an entrance to Forest Park.

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In the center of the plaza intersection, a bronze statue of a soldier looks to the south. Designed by Joseph Pollia, the First World War memorial was dedicated in 1926. Known as My Buddy, it depicts a serviceman pausing to look down at the grave of a fallen comrade. The statue stands on a pedestal designed by William Van Alen, the architect of the Chrysler Building. On the pedestal, a plaque lists the names of the 71 Richmond Hill residents killed in the war.

Across Myrtle Avenue from the pond site is Jayne Carlson Triangle, a playground named after a local community activist who served as Vice-President of the Richmond Hill Block Association and organized the annual Park Fair at this plaza. She died in 2000.