Here’s my first essay on an urban stream in sub-Saharan Africa. In Luanda, the Angolan capital, there’s Rio Seco, or “dry river,” which is barely visible as it flows behind buildings as an open sewer on its way to the ocean.
In the second half of the last century, Angolans first fought a brutal war of independence and then a civil war between the Marxist government and anti-communist guerillas. These days the country is prospering from oil and diamonds. The obelisk on the right marks the tomb of Agostinho Neto, Angola’s first president. Luanda is sprawling, but its urban streams remain neglected.
In my search for images of Harlem Creek I had doubts whether any photos existed of a stream flowing through upper Manhattan on its way to the site of Harlem Meer and then to the East River. Prior to the stream’s disappearance it did not have enough fame to merit an uptown assignment for a photographer. At the turn of the 20th century the stream was wiped from the map as Harlem quickly urbanized.
Fortunately the NYPL Digital Collections has old photos of the city where one can search by address and location to take a look back in time. One such image is the 1893 Brown Brothers shot of 116th Street near Lenox Avenue. We see cows cooling off in a watering hole, but is this oversize puddle really Harlem Creek?
On the road connecting mainland Queens to the Rockaway peninsula is the island community of Broad Channel. The southern half of this island is a residential neighborhood while the rest is a wildlife refuge administered by the National Parks Service. At the southern tip of this island is a smaller city-operated park that is currently undergoing restoration. Sunset Cove carries its name proudly, facing west with views towards Brooklyn and Manhattan.
The park is under construction at this time, transforming a former marina into a restored saltwater marsh surrounding a cove that provides habitat to an oyster reef.
From its source at Kensico Reservoir south to the New York Botanical Garden, the Bronx River flows nearly in a straight line direction alongside the parkway that shares its name. But there is one section of the river where it takes a brief turn east before returning to its linear course.
Here the river runs under six overpasses carrying Bronx River Parkway, Bronx Boulevard, and Gun Hill Road. There has been a bridge here since colonial times, lending its name to the Williamsbridge neighborhood.