Lispenard’s Meadow, Manhattan

Among the most helpful Twitter accounts that relates to New York City history is @Discovering_NYC, run by a local tour guide who shares old photos, maps, and illustrations of the city’s past. Over the weekend, it posted a map of Lispenard’s Meadow, the long-forgotten wetland in what is now the Tribeca neighborhood of lower Manhattan.

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At the turn of the 19th century, the meadow was on the northern periphery of New York City. Above is an 1800 illustration of the meadow by Alexander Anderson, looking towards the Hudson River. It contained three creeks within it, occluding one that drained from Collect Pond. That creek became the route of Canal Street.

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Tank Stream, Sydney

This week, New York City Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver is visiting Sydney, Australia for City Talks on Greening Global Cities, an urban planning conference. The city is the largest and most populated on the continent-country, built on a series of peninsulas facing the Parramatta River. At the head of each bay or cove separating the peninsulas were creeks, many of which have been lost to urbanization and only recently reemerging in the public imagination.

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One such example is Tank Stream, which drained into Sydney Cove, not far from city’s iconic bridge and opera house.  Continue reading

Fitch Steamboat on Collect Pond

An early steamboat experiment

Throughout history for every inventor credited for creating something, there are unsung inventors in their shadows who lacked the money or failed to file a patent to make their work official.

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Who ever heard of a steamboat in Manhattan’s long-buried Collect Pond that predated Robert Fulton’s boat by a decade? Continue reading

Black History in Hidden Streams

To mark Martin Luther King Day, there are four streams in Manhattan that relate to black history in New York City. Chronologically, they cover more than three centuries from the arrival of the first Angolan and Congolese slaves in New Amsterdam in 1626, to the civil rights period in Harlem.

On the subject of black history and rivers, perhaps no poem is as evocative of the connection as Langston Hughes‘ “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.” The composition speaks of how some of the world’s major streams have enriched the soul of the African American.

Hughes wrote that the poem came to his mind around 1920 when he was on a boat heading down the Mississippi. Continue reading

Hidden Urban Waters of 2015

In journalism, the week of December 31 is often described as the slowest news week of the year. Editors and reporters fill in the blank spaces of newspapers with year in review articles, in case you forgot or missed the stories that left their impact on history.

On the topic of my book, cities around the world are rediscovering their hidden waters through art, architecture and ambitious daylighting projects. Below is a sampling of such stories.

Guangzhou, China

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The Donghao Chung, once an ancient moat, and later a sewer, has been daylighted and transformed into a linear park reminiscent of Cheonggyecheon in Seoul. Like its Korean counterpart, the stream spent much of the past century hidden beneath the surface, with a busy roadway running atop its course.

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