The Brooklyn school had been built on top of a stream that made its foundation insecure. It turns out that New York City is full of such secreted streams, rilling below the surface, long ago concealed by development. From its primordial origins through its Lenape days — even into the early stages of modernity — the Big Apple featured a tangle of waterways that’s hard to imagine today.
The same is true of municipalities across the world, and now many are starting to reclaim their hidden waters. The Times reported two weeks ago that a stream that runs through the center of Seoul, once “entombed by pavement and forgotten beneath a lacework of elevated expressways,” has been exhumed; it now serves as a spot for picnicking.
Seoul is not alone.
Yonkers is working to excavate a third of a mile of long-ago buried river; Singapore and San Antonio are also working to free concealed water, and in Los Angeles citizens and officials are looking to resurrect the much maltreated Los Angeles River.
Beyond aesthetics, re-revealed bodies of water have practical environmental effects; wildlife diversity has exploded along the Seoul waterway, the Cheonggyecheon. Streams also handle excessive rainwater more efficiently than sewers.
It’s hard to imagine any of densely developed New York’s lost waters being liberated, but efforts are underway in the last patch of lightly to undeveloped city — southern Staten Island — to preserve some of its wetland areas, to store and filter storm water. It’s called The Staten Island Bluebelt; you can play with an interactive map here.
In a book and exhibition at the Museum of the City Museum of New York, Eric Sanderson takes us through 400 years of natural history.
Jul 22, 2009