Alexandra Canal, Singapore

At the tip of southeast Asia is the city-state of Singapore. Its tropical climate and hilly terrain means that there are plenty of hidden waterways flowing through this little republic. The Singapore River shares the country’s name flowing through its Downtown Core on the way to the sea. The furthest reaching tributary of this river is Alexandra Canal.

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Considering the density of Singapore and its long history of neglecting such waterways, what has become of Alexandra Canal?

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Hutchinson River, Bronx

At the city’s extreme northeast is Pelham Bay Park, a vast greensward that is three times the size of Central Park. One could not feel more distant from the city when visiting the park’s destinations: Orchard Beach, Bartow-Pell Mansion, Split Rock Golf Course, and the trails of Hunter Island and Twin Islands. On the inland side of the park is the Hutchinson River, known to most New Yorkers as the namesake of the parkway that follows its course.

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The river has a history relating to the conflict among Puritan colonists in New England that led to the English annexation of New Netherlands.

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Pine Stream, West Hempstead

A half hour to the east of my home in Queens is the suburban community of West Hempstead. With some of my friends priced out of the city when seeking houses, this was their village of choice. Like many towns, it has its own waterway with a history, hidden behind backyards in some spots, and widening into a pond that is the centerpiece of the community.

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Halls Pond is the premier public space in West Hempstead, where the water of Pine Stream gathers in a beautiful 11-acre park.

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Chyornaya River, Saint Petersburg

The imperial “northern capital” of Russia, Saint Petersburg is a city of many names such as Venice of the North for its many canals. On its northern side is a hidden waterway with a rich history whose name in English translates to “Black River.”

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The river has a place in history as a dueling site where Russia’s most famous poet was fatally wounded. That makes its name appropriate from a poetic viewpoint.

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Dâmbovița River, Bucharest

In the years prior to the Second World War, my grandfather lived in Bucharest where he worked at his uncle’s workshop. In contrast to his humble hometown, the Romanian capital aspired to be the Paris of Eastern Europe with its wide boulevards, triumphal arch, majestic palaces, and an urban waterway lined with trees and benches.

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In the postcard above, found on a local history blog, we see the Dâmbovița River flowing straight through the city, with neatly planted trees on either bank. In the corner is a postage stamp featuring the country’s boy-king Mihai (Michael), who first sat on his throne at age five. The river has seen plenty of changes in its host city since the founding of the country.

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Sarkandaugava, Riga

Ten miles shy of its entry into the Baltic Sea, the Daugava River passes through the city of Riga. Within the borders of Latvia’s capital city, the nation’s great river give up some of its water to bifurcation streams before uniting again and emptying into the sea. The cradle of industry in Riga is the Sarkandaugava, a branch of the Daugava that flows around Kundziņsala, the largest island within the city’s borders.

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This hidden Riga stream flows through traces of every period in the city’s history and holds the key to its future, as the gateway to Riga for seaborne goods.

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Sebastian Canal, Colombo

The Sri Lankan capital of Colombo is a city crossed by canals, a legacy of colonial rule in this South Asian island nation. The longest canal within the city is Sebastian Canal, which connects Beira Lake with the Kelani Ganga river.

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Above, the canal flows beneath Khettarama Temple Road, near a small picturesque stupa nestled between oil tanks and a cricket stadium. Continue reading

Wienfluss, Vienna

Flowing through nine European countries, the Danube River is full of history along its 2,860-mile course. The oldest capital city on the Danube is Vienna, where the rivers enters the Pannonian Plain, splitting briefly into branches and collecting tributaries along the way. To reduce impact from flooding and improve navigation for boats, the main course of the Danube was straightened as it flows through Vienna, while its old natural course kept its winding route with a concrete bulkhead as the Donaukanal. A tributary of this “canal” is a river that shares the city’s name.

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It isn’t clear whether the ancient city received its name from the river or vice versa. Vienna’s founding predates the Roman Empire. Since 1899, the Vienna River has been confined to a concrete channel within the borders of the city, and in the section between Naschmarkt and Stadtpark, it runs through a tunnel. Continue reading

City Creek, Salt Lake City

The state of Utah was founded on very lofty ideas and the Mormon settlers who developed the state applied a few biblical names to the map: Jordan River, Zion, and Moab. The capital city however has a plain name, Salt Lake City and the stream that continued to the city’s growth also has a simple name: City Creek.


Today this hidden urban stream is associated with a shopping center in the city’s downtown, where a channel resembling the creek flows through the mall to the delight of shoppers. Continue reading

Opływ Motławy, Gdansk

Along the southern Baltic Sea coast are a number of port cities that were members of the Hanseatic League, a coalition of German-speaking ports located at the mouths of major rivers draining into the sea. From the time of the Teutonic Knights’ conquest of the city in 1308 until the surrender of Germany in 1945, Gdansk appeared on maps as the German name Danzig.  Its main waterway is the Motlawa and as the city grew, its network of waterways included canals and defensive moats.

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The most prominent of the city’s moats is the Opływ Motławy, seen in a 1931 aerial photo above and largely unchanged since then. Continue reading