Many big cities and towns owe their existence to rivers, either because some waterway provided a transit route, water source, or hydro power for mills in the early days of industrialization. But many such communities proceeded to bury their rivers in the 20th century, both because the waters were sullied with pollution or sewage and to make room for housing, commercial buildings and — most of all — roads.
Over the last several decades, from Europe to North America and now Asia, there’s been a growing movement aimed at peeling back pavement and “daylighting” buried waters.
I have a story running in The Times and International Herald Tribune on one of the most remarkable such transformations — the restoration of the Cheonggyecheon in Seoul, South Korea. Through more than six centuries of settlement, the stream went from being a revered feature of the landscape to an open sewer to a buried, forgotten storm drain and now to a three-mile corridor of burbling waters, milling carp, strolling picnickers and relative quiet in one of the powerhouse metropolises of Asia. You can see a video report on that effort at the bottom of this post. The Seoul stream project was integrated with a parallel effort to take away highways and improve public transportation.
The story also discusses an ambitious effort to expose 1,900 feet of the Saw Mill River, which runs under a stretch of shops and parking lots in downtown Yonkers, a city of 200,000 abutting the Bronx. The photograph above shows the giant flume built in the early the 1920’s to contain the river. From San Antonio to Singapore, there are other examples.
A community’s relationship with its waterways is a reflection of its stage of development. Among other cities pursuing the restoration of buried or concrete-lined waterways are Vancouver, which once had dozens of salmon spawning runs in streams within the city limits, and Los Angeles.