Dotonbori, Osaka, Japan

John Salazar, my former co-worker at Gray Line is a man of the world, in part as a result of his work as a tour guide and from his overseas service for the country in the army. Among his favorite places is Japan, the highly urbanized island country whose cities feature numerous canals and hidden streams. A book could be written on this topic, but having little knowledge on Japan’s urban streams, for now I’ll share the story of its most famous example, shared by John.

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The Dotonbori is a canal constructed after 1612 by merchant Yasui Doton, seeking to connect the Umezu River, which ran east to west, hoping to increase commerce in the Minami section of Osaka by connecting the two branches of the Yokobori River. The canal’s neighborhood is often compared to New York’s Times Square, albeit with a stream running through it. Continue reading

Photo of the Week

This week’s photo takes us back to Flushing Creek with the only double-decker drawbridge in the city that crosses over a highway. From the collection at the city’s Department of Records, we have the Roosevelt Avenue Bridge circa 1939-1940 and to offer context, a Google Street View of the same scene today.

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The Van Wyck Expressway was looped beneath the bridge in 1961. Needless to day, the bridge hasn’t been lifted since then, but if you know of a drawbridge that is lifted for anything that isn’t a waterborne vessel, by all means, let me know. Continue reading

Saw Mill Playground, Bronx

In October 2014, Mayor Bill De Blasio and Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver announced a program, the Community Parks Initiative (CPI) to expedite the reconstruction of 35 under-served community parks across the city that have not seen repairs in a long time, and located in densely developed neighborhoods with low-income populations. Among the nine parks selected in the Bronx that year, Saw Mill Playground has a history and name related to a hidden stream that once flowed near the property, Mill Brook.

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Completed in 1974 as a schoolyard for P.S. 49, now the Mario Salvadori School (M.S. 222), the park offered very little permeable surface. It was a paved lot with no connection to Mill Brook until 1987, when Parks Commissioner Henry J. Stern gave the playground its name. Continue reading

Gowanus Canal’s Map Man

“People should care about their backyards. The moment you make a connection to home, you start caring.” –Eymund Diegel, TEDxGowanus featured speaker.

In the cast that involves New York City’s hidden streams, there are many characters who play vital roles in telling the story of a stream. For Gowanus Canal, you have the swimmer, the poet, the documentary filmmaker, the historian, and if I had to audition for a role, I would be the tour guide.

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But when it comes to the most important character in this drama, it would be the urban planner, an individual whose research incorporates the topography, hydrology, biology, geology, demographics, zoning codes, history and maps into consideration when laying out a vision for Gowanus Canal.

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In effect, the living encyclopedia for this stream is Eymund Diegel. Continue reading

Maple Grove Cemetery, Kew Gardens

In an age when available cemetery plots are dwindling in New York, I feel fortunate that my family members planned ahead by reserving their final resting places in the same cemetery, allowing for the convenience of paying respect to multiple individuals in one visit. What it offers with access, Mount Hebron Cemetery lacks in design with most of its tombstones packed tightly next to each other. Roadways and walking paths are so narrow that one can trip on a tombstone.

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The city’s cemeteries weren’t always like this. In the 19th century, they were deigned in the appearance of burial parks, with naturalistic landscaping, winding paths and water features. One such example is Memorial Park Lake at Maple Grove Cemetery in Kew Gardens, Queens. The above photo relates to a visit in the 1950s by local resident Jack Kerouac, which inspired a poem. Continue reading

Fort Point Channel, Boston

As you have noticed, Monday is when this blog goes out of town to highlight examples of hidden urban streams outside of New York City. 190 miles northeast of New York’s City Hall is its longtime rival whose downtown also appears nestled between two waterways that lead to a harbor.

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While the Charles River of Boston is lined by parkland designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, and flows past the city’s great universities, the Fort Point Channel has spent the past two centuries as an industrial backwater, gradually filled in as rail yards and factory shrunk it in size. In the past three decades, this waterway has taken on a new life as a recreational and cultural corridor on the border between the city’s downtown and South Boston. The photo above was taken in 1904, showing the lifelike raising of the Rolling Bridge that took trains to South Station across Fort Point Channel. Continue reading

Photo of the Week

Among the trusted sources that I’ve found in the course of research for my book is Brooklyn historian Joseph Ditta, whose Gravesend Gazette blog offers details on the history of southern Brooklyn. From his collection, here’s this week’s selected photo.

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The colonial saltbox structure is Gerritsen’s Mill on Gerritsen’s Creek in present-day Marine Park. At the time of its destruction on September 4, 1935, it was believed to be the oldest tidal mill the country.  Continue reading

Cromwell’s Creek at Yankee Stadium

Shaped by the glaciers of the most recent ice age, the terrain of the Bronx is a series of north-south ridges with streams flowing in the valleys between them. An example of such a valley is Mullally Park, where the new Yankee Stadium stands. A century before the massive sports cathedral was completed, a creek ran through the park, named after an English family that briefly overthrew the monarchy and later fled to the colonies.

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The only visible reminders of this buried Bronx stream are Cromwell Avenue, which was constructed parallel to the stream bed, and the approach to Macomb’s Dam Bridge, which is elevated above the valley in which Mullally Park lies. Continue reading

Where famous streams begin

Yesterday, I shared the location of Flushing Creek’s source, an unexpected display of stonework amid the marshes. Even the mightiest of streams have their beginnings in humble circumstances. On account of their fame, surrounding cultures have often designated the sources of such streams with shrines and monuments. Here are a few examples:


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The second longest river in France and the central feature of Paris, the Seine has its origin at the village of Source-Seine in the Côte-d’Or department. Since ancient times, its spring has been a pilgrimage site. In pre-Roman times, the indigenous Gallic tribes built a shrine to Sequana, the nymph of the Seine. The pagan shrine was destroyed by Christian Roman emperor Theodosius I. Continue reading

Source of Flushing Creek

When tracing the courses of the world’s great rivers, they all originate from humble beginnings in swamps, caves, and springs where water bursts out of the ground. Within the borders of New York City, many natural springs have been buried by development and in their place, streams flow out of pipes. An example of a buried source is Flushing Creek, whose natural headwaters were covered by the Kew Gardens Interchange.

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When the borders of Queens’ original towns were determined around 1683, the towns of Flushing, Newtown and Jamaica met at the Head of the Vleigh, the natural spring where Flushing Creek originated. Is that spring still flowing today? Continue reading