On the coast of southern Wales is a small post-industrial town with a history steeped in medieval folklore, industrial revolution, and the revival of Welsh culture. In the center of Llanelli, the Lliedi River flows beneath buildings and streets.
The photo above was taken by Hywel Williams in 2006. The spot where the river dips beneath the town was historically known as Falcon Bridge, but no marker explains for this centuries-old name or when the stream was consigned to permanent darkness.
The name of the Kenyan capital city comes from the Maasai word for “place of cool waters,” in reference to the city’s namesake creek. Nairobi is located on a gently sloping plain that is high enough not to have malaria-causing mosquitoes, and roughly midway between the seaport city of Mombasa and the vast Lake Victoria on the other side of Kenya. At the turn of the 20th century, British colonial authorities set up a railroad deport at the “place of cool waters,” which in 1905 became the capital of British East Africa.
But as the city has grown, its infrastructure failed to keep up, resulting in massive sewage releases into the Nairobi River, along with chemicals and trash that have choked its flow, killed wildlife and posing a health hazard to people living and working along its course. The crowded scene above is at Pumwani Road, to the east of Nairobi’s Central Business District.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.