Rochdale Daylighting

In southeast Queens there is an apartment complex named Rochdale Village. When in doubt on the namesake, I look to England to find a place of the same name. The borough of Rochdale is in the county of Greater Manchester, a historic town dating back a thousand years that had the River Roch (pronounced and sometimes spelled as roach) running through its center.

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Between 1905 and the 1928, the section of the river running past the Town Hall was covered, along with the medieval bridges that cross the stream. Until recently, the only way to see their arches was with a flashlight, but now the stream is about to make its return to the city center.

Where it flows

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In the aerial view above, the path of the Roch takes the stream below a series of public plazas, making daylighting a relatively easy process that avoids demolition of buildings. The red line marks the medieval bridge, which has a rich history going back centuries. The river originates on the slope of Chelburn Moor in the Penine Hills, not far from the village of Calderbrook.

Through a series of canals further upstream, the Roch is connected to the Calder and Humber rivers, which flow to the North Sea. To the west, the Roch flows into the Irwell, then the Mersey on its way to the Irish Sea at Liverpool. The Roch is paralleled by the Rochdale Canal, which is easier to navigate than the river. Pollution from industry gave the Roch a foul odor and the stream was covered in order to beautify the city above.

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In January 2014, the city had selected the architecture firm BDP in a design competition to transform the town center in a £4 million project.

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Notice that there are two diagonal jutting overlooks on the south bank of the Roch. These are intended to provide better views of the uncovered medieval arches that have the strength to hold up the weight of countless buses, trucks and cars crossing the stream.

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In total, seven bridges will be revealed when the project is completed this year. A culvert that was once dubbed the “world’s widest bridge” is gone in favor of the sound of rushing water in a city’s center. Nearby Manchester also has its share of hidden streams, such as the Medlock, Irk, Moss Brook, Rochdale Canal, Gore Brook, Platt Brook, Red Lion Brook, Shaw Brook, and so many others. In 1987, author Geoffrey Ashworth published The Lost Rivers of Manchester. As this book is out of print, it carries quite a high price online.

Some of these waterways can be found on the Facebook group Daylighting Urban Rivers and its website based at the University of Sheffield. The site offers plenty of examples of urban stream restoration in England and around the globe. Here’s one photo of the Roch restoration from this group:

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In the news: Bronx News 12 reports on the return of wildlife to the Bronx River.

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