Peer Reviewed Book

When an author has a book reviewed by a peer, it is an experience that is at once exciting but also anxious. What would he say about my book? Is it deserving of his review? I am proud to have had my book read and reviewed today by The Bowery Boys, a blog founded by Greg Young and Tom Meyers. Since 2007, they’ve recorded podcasts of city history available to the public on their website and through iTunes, among other platforms.

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Click on the above 1915 postcard of Staten Island’s Silver Lake to read the full review and interview on Hidden Waters of New York City by The Bowery Boys. Last month, they recently released a book of their ownBowery Boys: Adventures in Old New York is available at all online book retailers including the venerable Strand Books.

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Bergen Basin, Queens

Continuing on the southeast Queens theme, here’s another hidden waterway visible to countless airplane passengers but nearly inaccessible on the ground to the public.

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Flanking the western edge of JFK International Airport, Bergen Basin has been used mainly for fuel deliveries to the airport’s massive tank farm. Prior to the construction of the airport, the highly polluted basin was an inlet of Jamaica Bay, site to a fishing community long forgotten. Continue reading

Broad Street: Interpretive paving

In the past two decades, the city’s newest parks and pedestrian plazas have taken on the role of outdoor museums with landscaping and artwork that tell the history of the sites. When it is no longer possible to daylight a hidden stream, markings on the pavement serve as reminders of the past.

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On Broad Street in Manhattan’s Financial District, light blue paving recalls the Heere Gracht, a canal that ran down the middle of this street from 1646 to 1676.  Continue reading

Skating Rink on a Pond

Since its opening in 1857, most of Central Park’s landscape has remained remarkably unaltered. The preservation of the park’s rocky outcroppings, meadows, forests and streams is a story of beating the odds, succeeding against dozens of failed proposals to fill the park with museums, monuments, and a racetrack, among other ideas. When a development was approved, the landscape features  often sacrificed were the waterways. People can’t walk or swim in the park’s water anyway.

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Why is how the northern bay of The Pond at the southeast corner of Central Park became the site of Wollman Rink. 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

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:

Seine

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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

Northern Blvd’s decline in design

When looking at the most recent examples of redesigned bridges in the city, the democratic process that led to the new Kosciuszko Bridge is an inspiration. Its proximity to Manhattan and that it carries the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway made it deserving of an ambitious redesign. Further away on the Flushing River, Northern Boulevard’s crossing of the stream has steadily declined in its design, resulting in its present highway overpass appearance.

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The current bridge was completed in 1980, a concrete and steel crossing that carries New York State Route 25A on its 73-mile path between Long Island City and the North Fork of Long Island. The previous bridges at this location were much more attractive. Continue reading

Queens Botanical Garden

Ask a native New Yorker where one can find the city’s largest botanical garden, and the answer is outside of Manhattan. The same goes for the city’s largest zoo and largest city-operated park. In a measure of the limited independence that the city’s other four boroughs feel, each has its own zoo, art museum, and botanical garden.

By definition, a botanical garden is a collection of diverse plant species from many climates, locations and habitats. This includes sandy deserts and wetlands (saltwater and freshwater). In places where there are no natural streams, the botanical gardens carve out waterways that appear naturalistic and plant wetland flora along their banks.

One such example is the Queens Botanical Garden in Flushing, which has an artificial stream running through its property, which itself is a landfill covering a natural stream running through a sewer deep beneath the surface. Continue reading

Jack’s Pond, Staten Island

Where the street grid covered numerous ponds across the city’s boroughs, the youngest of them, Staten Island still has plenty to offer. Along the island’s south shore, numerous ponds and creeks that were once erased by mapmakers in favor of yet-to-be-built streets have reemerged within the Staten Island Bluebelt. Launched in 1990 by the city’s Department of Environmental Protection, the program involves acquiring privately-owned wetlands and re-purposing them as storm water drainage corridors, essentially allowing nature to channel the excess water rather than having it travel through sewers.

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These preserved ribbons of open space function not only as storm water channels but also as parks and nature preserves in a rapidly developing borough. Among the 19 designated Bluebelt properties on the South Shore is Jack’s Pond, an apparent throwback to an earlier time in the Great Kills neighborhood.  Continue reading

Horse Brook block facing development

If there is a hidden stream in New York City that resonates the most in my life, it is Horse Brook, whose course runs directly below my mother’s house. No trace of this stream remains today as it was gradually covered in phases. On the map, the only hints of this stream are superblocks that defy the surrounding street grid. These blocks avoided development until technology enabled construction atop the high water table marking the former streambed.

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The last entirely undeveloped superblock on the stream’s path is the Newtown High School athletic field. Recently, this site was proposed for a pre-kindergarten. In response, Newtown High School alum Libely Rivas Tejada started a petition to preserve the open space. So far, 570 individuals have signed on. Continue reading