The west coast of North America between the Alaskan panhandle and the state of Washington is lined with fjords and inlets that enable ships to avoid the open waters of the Pacific Ocean. The southernmost of these waterways is Puget Sound, and at its southern tip is Olympia, capital city of Washington state. Two streams, Deschutes River, and Moxlie Creek flow into the southern reach of Puget Sound. The latter flows partially beneath the city’s streets.
The city has a visible environmental movement whose goals include the restoration of Moxlie Creek to the surface, but with so much development atop its buried course it’s not an easy proposition. One hint of the creek’s presence is at its outfall into the East Bay of Budd Inlet, where it is seen flowing during low tide.
On my childhood trips from Queens to Jones Beach, my family drove on the Meadowbrook State Parkway. The highway’s 12.5-mile route runs mostly through a thickly forested landscape before the trees give way to the salt meadows of the south shore.
The forest on the highway’s shoulders gives the impression of wilderness, but behind it are thousands of tract houses built during the 1950s suburban housing boom. Also not visible from the highway is its namesake stream, East Meadow Brook, which also shares its name with a nearby suburban community. One place where motorists can see it is at the Merrick Road cloverleaf, where it appears as a tidal inlet. Continue reading
In the Transylvania region of Romania, the city of Cluj-Napoca offers a history of the centuries-long tug-of-war between Hungary and Romania that shaped its identity. In the densely built city center is the Canalul Morii, or Mill Canal that follows an ancient river course, carrying the natural flow of water to the city.
In this photo from a travel site, we see outdoor dining at
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