Rio Seco, Luanda

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.

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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.

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Still River, Danbury

Throughout New England there are examples of urban streams that powered the industrial revolution and contributed to the development of cities. But as these streams flowed through their respective downtowns, they caused flood damage and with pollution, there were calls to have them confined to culverts and forced underground. In the state of Connecticut: Hartford has the Park River, Waterbury has its Mad River, and Meriden has Harbor Brook. Closer to New York is Danbury, where Still River has a similar history.

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Once the hat making center of the country, the mills of Danbury are mostly silent and the shoreline in the city’s downtown appears as an afterthought, confined to a concrete channel as seen above at White Street.

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Motts Creek, Hewlett

One of the most important roads in southern Nassau County is Peninsula Boulevard, running in a southeast direction from Hempstead to the Five Towns. These are the upscale south shore suburbs of New York City where creeks can be found flowing behind backyards, beneath streets and in this case, on the median of Peninsula Boulevard.

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In the community of Hewlett, the ditch that is the eastern branch of Motts Creek doubles as a route for power lines, demonstrating that as it is with highways, the easiest right-of-way for utilities is along waterways.

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Dongcheon, Busan

The leading example of a restored urban waterway is the Cheonggyecheon in Seoul, a multi-million dollar linear park that has inspired other cities worldwide to follow this example. Among other Korean cities, the southern city of Busan has its own examples of  urban streams restored and others that are covered by streets and buildings.

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Like New York, Busan is a true metropolis covering smaller former municipalities that it absorbed over the decades. The stream flowing through the city center is the Dongcheon, which runs partially underground with the rest flowing neglected beneath highways. But there are a small signs of a stream revival underway hinting at a greener future.

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Birsig, Basel

Near the meeting of the French, Swiss, and German borders is the city of Basel, straddling the Rhine River. Regarded as one of the best cities in which to live, it has a long history as a venue for international gatherings, and a healthy economy as a center for banking and pharmaceuticals. Growing around a Celtic settlement that became a Roman fort, and then as a semi-independent bishopric, Basel expanded its walls and built markets atop the Rhine’s urban tributary, the Birsig River.

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The river flows in a park-lined channel through the city, descending into darkness for its final miles beneath the city’s historic center. Above is the tunnel portal at Birsigstrasse, high enough for a small vehicle to enter when the water is low. Continue reading

Valley Stream, NY

As the hidden brook titled Valley Stream flows through the suburban New York village of Valley Stream, I could not title this essay as “Valley Stream, Valley Stream.” This brook also runs through a state park that shares its name, behind backyards, beneath parking lots, through two former millponds before emptying into Jamaica Bay.

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The stream flows for four miles from its source in Franklin Square to its confluence with Hook Creek. Along the course are a handful of picturesque parks, such as Village Green Park, seen above.

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Slepianka, Minsk

The capital city of Belarus is a textbook example of Soviet city planning with its lengthy boulevards, modernist architecture, and rows of apartments on superblocks. Lost in the rubble of the Second World War and postwar rebuilding is the city’s natural history that includes more than a dozen streams that have been consigned beneath the surface.

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The Svislach River bisects Minsk as its main waterway. Under the Soviets this river was dammed, and its banks have been set in concrete. But its oxbow turns have been preserved in a manner resembling the Moscow River. On the city’s eastern side, the second longest stream, the swampy Slepianka River was transformed into set of connected waterways with concrete waterfalls, embankments, islands, and terraces. The waterfall near the Agat Hotel is of particular interest as it allows visitors to walk behind the stream’s veil of water. Continue reading

Huatanay, Cusco

The highest city that has hidden urban streams is the former imperial capital of the Incas. At more than 11,000 feet above sea level, Cusco, Peru is a magnet for tourism and home to a thriving Native culture deep in the Andean Mountains. The main river flowing through this city is the Huatanay. A trickle in comparison to the Amazon, but that’s what its water will eventually become.

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Within the city are nearly a dozen tributaries that date back to the Inca period, some of them running as ditches and other covered by modern streets.

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Kamenka, Novosibirsk

The largest city in Siberia was built on the banks of the mighty Ob River. It also has its own hidden urban stream, the Kamenka. Its once-imposing gorge was filled in the 1960s and a highway built atop its former course two decades later.

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Adding to the insult, the river’s name was removed from the highway in 2007 and sets of luxury residential towers are popping up on undeveloped land that could have been used for daylighting the stream as a linear park. One hint of the Kamenka in the city is the Sibrevkom Street Bridge that spans the much shallower gorge that was carved by the Kamenka.

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Mill Creek, Erie

New York and Pennsylvania have the distinction as the only two states with seaports on the Atlantic Ocean and the Great Lakes. The Keystone State’s port on Lake Erie shares the lake’s name, and that of its Native people. Although the city does not have a subway, it has a tunnel wide enough to fit a van, running for 2.3 miles beneath the city.

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The Mill Creek Tube carries its namesake waterway out of view as eternal punishment for the devastating August 3, 1915 flood that the creek wreaked upon the city. Above, a photo from a June 2014 survey of the subterranean stream by Erie Times-News shows the size of the tube and the seemingly harmless stream when it is not carrying its maximum volume.

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