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Rivers Lost and Found
October 24, 2012 3:07 AM   Subscribe

London's River Fleet may be the best-known buried river, but there are examples around the world, including the Bievre in Paris, the Wein in Vienna (as featured in The Third Man), the Neglinnaya in Moscow, the Tank Stream in Sydney, the Minetta Brook in New York and the lost streams of Los Angeles. Some buried rivers are now being restored to the urban landscape. Why bury a river? Well, Ben Jonson's On the Famous Voyage gives an idea of what the Fleet was like in the 17th Century.

[The Cheonggye Stream previously. LA and New York articles via bldgblog]
posted by gnimmel (43 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite

 
Follow the River Fleet in pictures. You can, apparently, hear it if you stand by outside the Coach and Horses pub in Farringdon - but bring a lookout so you don't get mown down by a postal van.

London has lots of buried rivers, hence the streets named after rivers - Fleet St, Falcon Rd, Effra Rd, Westbourne Rd etc. You can pass through Sloane Square station and never know the Westbourne is running above you. You can see where the Tyburn comes out at the Thames to this day.
posted by MuffinMan at 3:28 AM on October 24, 2012 [8 favorites]


Or to translate verse for y'all: they were open cesspools. Same thing for the Miller's River in Somerville, MA which in addition to being a toilet, was the receptacle of the largest slaughter industry after Chicago.

The other argument that made filling rivers expedient, at the time, was the creation of new land in enriching urban/industrial areas. This did create new lots and reduce the smell. However, the legacy of these is sewer/flooding issues, brownfields and expensive foundations for future buildings.


http://www.old-maps.com/ma/ma_towns/middlesex_towns/midd56/SOMERVILLE_1856_web.jpg
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 3:30 AM on October 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


The Thames itself was notoriously mephitic pre-Bazalgette. Shame the Fleet can't be restored. Could I tempt the authorities by suggesting that property values might actually benefit?

I was entranced to hear of the Wein, but I think it's a typo?
posted by Segundus at 3:44 AM on October 24, 2012


One nineteenth-century writer told of a man, lost in the dark, who drowned in deep water at what is now the intersection of Grand and Greene Streets—smack in the heart of SoHo.
I love stuff like this.
It's exactly this kind of fact that made me aspire to become a local history bore!
posted by DZ-015 at 3:53 AM on October 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


Shame the Fleet can't be restored. Could I tempt the authorities by suggesting that property values might actually benefit?

Here is the source of the Fleet "river". I think you would need to consult a "higher" authority.

"He brought streams also out of the rock, and caused waters to run down like rivers."
posted by three blind mice at 3:54 AM on October 24, 2012


Glasgow has the Molendinar Burn.
posted by Catseye at 3:54 AM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Brussel has buried La Senne/De Zenne in the late 19th century.
posted by Baud at 4:00 AM on October 24, 2012


If you count overvaulted canals, there are even more of these out there. Compare Leiden in 1649 to now, for instance.

(And that's not even all of the buried waterways in Leiden; the street now called Langebrug was already converted from a canal in 1649.)
posted by fifthrider at 4:09 AM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Seattle buried most of Thornton Creek, and there's another creek that runs almost under my house on its way down to Green Lake (it actually ends in a permanent mud-and-algae puddle at the foot of the hill, bubbling up under the sidewalk no matter how many times they fix it). There are hundreds of these creeks and rivulets, some still in ravines, some buried under concrete, but you're not allowed to mention them, because that would bring strict streambank regulations into play where they are not wanted by landowners, so the city's official position is "What stream? No stream here. Never was. Can't imagine what you're talking about." They played that game with Thornton Creek for decades.
posted by Fnarf at 4:15 AM on October 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


In Providence, RI, the Providence River (and, to a lesser degree, the Woonasquatucket) were paved over by what was called locally "The Widest Bridge in the World." They were uncovered during the late 70s and incorporated into a slightly silly park during the moderately effective mayorship of Buddy Cianci (whose two terms were marked by *ahem* slight irregularities). But, hey, rivers open to the sky again.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:18 AM on October 24, 2012


Cheonggyecheon is really a story that has a happy ending for both the stream and the local residents. Makes me wonder about the whole "you can't restore River X" thing.
posted by 1adam12 at 4:24 AM on October 24, 2012


Follow the River Fleet in pictures. You can, apparently, hear it if you stand by outside the Coach and Horses pub in Farringdon - but bring a lookout so you don't get mown down by a postal van.

I came in to mention Farringdon myself, but gosh, that link right there has more information than what I knew so far! Love, love that part of London tremendously; spent many winter mornings last year trying to trace the River Fleet.
posted by the cydonian at 4:35 AM on October 24, 2012


Brussel has buried La Senne/De Zenne in the late 19th century.

Zinne, in the Brusseleer vernacular. Which gave their name to the zinnekes, that is, the Brussels natives, as well as to the star product of the local Brasserie de la Senne microbrewery, the delicious Zinnebir.

The river itself, on the other hand, was indeed, by all accounts, an open sewer prior to its vaulting.
posted by Skeptic at 4:40 AM on October 24, 2012


Here is the source of the Fleet "river"...

Fair point, indeed, but then have you seen the source of the Thames?

I think of the Wandle, another Thames tributary (gives its name to Wandsworth, or possibly vice versa): not buried, admittedly, and it used to power dozens of watermills, but it would now be dry due to depletion of the aquifer if it wasn't kept artificially topped up. But there they're even putting in fish ladders and things.

Still, you're right - it'll never happen for the Fleet, short of "higher" intervention.
posted by Segundus at 4:42 AM on October 24, 2012


Also the ill-fated Washington City Canal underneath Constitution Ave in Washington DC
posted by Blasdelb at 4:43 AM on October 24, 2012


In Tokyo, rivers were pretty much the only open space in the city. In order to improve transportation to get the 1964 Olympics, elevated expressways were built over a large percentage of them. The rivers are still there, and mostly visible, there just happens to be a highway over them. Damn shame. Nihonbashi, a freaking landmark, literally the point by which distance from Tokyo was measured, sits under a giant expressway.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:43 AM on October 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


As for the Fleet River, since it gave its name to Fleet Street, it's only too appropriate that it has become an underground sewer these days...
posted by Skeptic at 4:44 AM on October 24, 2012


I first heard of the many other buried london rivers in a buffy fanfic of all things.
posted by elizardbits at 5:14 AM on October 24, 2012


This one's a few years old, but here's a study of the lost creeks and wetlands of Edmonton. The overlay map is particularly useful when you want to know why your basement keeps flooding when it rains here. It also hints at how much more extensive our network of urban parkland could have been.

Also, 11 Rivers Forced Underground from National Geographic.
posted by hangashore at 5:22 AM on October 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Why bury a river?

For all the reasons we no longer have for them. We no longer use them to drive our mills. We no longer pull our dinners from them. We no longer take boats up and down them to the next towns. Our clean water is piped in and our dirty water is piped out. Rivers only get in the way of housing developments and highways.
posted by pracowity at 5:25 AM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


St. Louis has one of these. It was tightly chaneled for the 1904 World's Fair and laters was sealed in completely. It starts northwest of Forest park near Pennsylvania and Vernon and comes out near Manchester and Macklind.

Let's just say that the 20's through 60's were not kind to the River Des Peres. A major chunk of my sewer bill is currently going to disentangling the sanitary and storm sewers created back then.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:47 AM on October 24, 2012


As for the Fleet River, since it gave its name to Fleet Street, it's only too appropriate that it has become an underground sewer these days...

I'm pretty sure the Fleet was used as a public sewer back when it was an open-air stream, too. Foreshadowing?
posted by Thorzdad at 5:52 AM on October 24, 2012


Waseda's University's Shigeru Ito gave Nihonbashi a top spot on his list of Ugly Japan some years ago. He made it out to be something of a national embarrassment to have a sight of such historic importance built over by an expressway, but I don't believe there has been too much serious effort to change things recently.

This article had some interesting ideas about waterfront renewal in the context of Nihonbashi, but it's from 2008, which is also about the last time I remember the issue being discussed.
posted by Winnemac at 5:58 AM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Nihonbashi, a freaking landmark, literally the point by which distance from Tokyo was measured, sits under a giant expressway.

Amazing timing... I was jut in Tokyo last week for work and walked under this expressway and commented on how crazy it looked, my Japanese co-worker talked about how upset many people still are about it.
posted by cirhosis at 5:59 AM on October 24, 2012


Baltimore. Jones Falls Expressway may be handy (sometimes) but its no consolation for having buried a river running through the city.

On the flip side my wife and I did an "urban kayaking adventure" in Chicago last year and it was five kinds of awesome.
posted by newdaddy at 6:31 AM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Amazing timing... I was jut in Tokyo last week for work and walked under this expressway and commented on how crazy it looked, my Japanese co-worker talked about how upset many people still are about it.


Well, they can ask anyone in Milwaukee, San Francisco, or Boston, and learn that expressways are not perpetual. Or Paris, soon. Or Rochester. Or seattle...
posted by ocschwar at 6:34 AM on October 24, 2012


Japan is pretty famous for ignoring cultural treasures if it means a road gets built. Pontocho, the beautiful pedestrian area in Kyoto (mostly bars and traditional restaurants, with a decent amount of shadiness) has been fought over for years. The government wants to put another bridge across the river running right through the area. Every time it's come up, citizen's groups have protested, and managed to block it, but it still pops up every couple of years.

As for the idea of these highways in Tokyo going anywhere, this is the city of the future, and they still haven't figured out that you can actually bury those power lines.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:49 AM on October 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Here in Dublin we have several, the most famous being the Poddle, there's a bit of a documentary on it here.
posted by nfg at 7:19 AM on October 24, 2012


Pittsburgh never buried any rivers but they did fill in some good sized lakes and there did used to be a canal that ran right through the Northside and Downtown, down Grant Street and then through a tunnel in what was then Grant's Hill. The canal was filled in in the 1850s and Grant's Hill was shaved down by a total of about 60' in the late 19th and early 20th centuries during a series of re-grading projects. The current city hall is about five stories below the level of that site in 1800.
posted by octothorpe at 7:33 AM on October 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


In Hartford, CT, there is a fairly sizable buried river: the Park River (a/k/a the Hog River), which runs from Bloomfield and West Hartford through Downtown Hartford to the Connecticut River.

It was only buried in the 1940s, at great cost and expense, by the Corps of Engineers, which is pretty late by buried-river standards. In theory it was a flood-control project, but the river was also pretty filthy with industrial runoff.

Because of the seasonal flooding, the underground channel for the river is massively overbuilt, and is big enough that you can actually canoe down the river during non-flood periods. (I think a kayak would probably be a better choice of craft, personally.)

There is, compared to the tunnels under London or New York, not much cool down there to see or do; it's just a lot of concrete.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:39 AM on October 24, 2012


This is probably a good place to mention Bishan Park in Singapore, which underwent a massive restoration recently, focusing on the Kallang River that runs through it. It wasn't a buried river, but more of a river converted into a large concrete canal, and now converted back into a natural river again.
posted by destrius at 8:44 AM on October 24, 2012


Melbourne had something a little like this in Williams Creek, a small waterway that was replaced by one of the busiest streets of the young city. It wasn't originally buried so much as ignored; each rainfall turning the gutters into torrents that drowned horses. Eventually it was put underground by way of a large storm-drain - one of the first in the city - but even in modern times it has a tendency towards flash-flooding, as most of the centre of the city drains into this small catchment (such as the flood of 1971). Recently some people have called for the creek to be returned to the surface (as in this mock-up) but cutting the city's business district in two with a waterway seems highly improbable.
posted by notionoriety at 8:55 AM on October 24, 2012


There's been some recent progess about correcting the damage done to the Muddy River in Boston (yay!); I believe they're re-opening parts of it. When the MBTA flooded during the great October storm of 1996, it wasn't a freak of nature, it was merely the Muddy River reclaiming its old haunts.
posted by Melismata at 8:55 AM on October 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


A block of two east from where I am sitting right now is the site of Brewery Creek, obviously named for the breweries along its length; history here. Today the only sign of its existence are the water motifs on a crop of live-work condos.
posted by jokeefe at 9:00 AM on October 24, 2012


Philadelphia hasn't covered anything so dramatic as a full-fledged river, but we're covered over almost all the streams and creeks that used to be in the city. Most of them ended up as sewers, tied into the water system.
posted by cjelli at 9:09 AM on October 24, 2012


We have a buried river in Salt Lake City known as "City Creek". It comes out of the mountains, goes through a park, then goes underground through the city. The irony comes when you consider the recent rebuilding of the downtown mall, also known as "City Creek". Instead of putting the real river above ground again, they created a Disney river that flows through the facility and then pumps the water back to the head end. I'd imagine using the real river would have been a lot less wasteful, and probably could have been used in conjunction with cooling systems.
posted by pashdown at 9:10 AM on October 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Or to translate verse for y'all: they were open cesspools. Same thing for the Miller's River in Somerville, MA which in addition to being a toilet, was the receptacle of the largest slaughter industry after Chicago.

The Miller's River in Somerville has actually been partly restored as part of the Big Dig. It runs underneath the Zakim Bridge, but you can walk next to it on a pathway lighted by fanciful light poles. The original water depths are marked along the path, and there are a handful of sculptures, including a sack of potatoes. Photos. They've done a pretty good job with the parkland along the Cambridge-side of the Charles, so if you're in Boston, you should check it out.
posted by angels in the architecture at 9:10 AM on October 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Lost Rivers is a recent documentary about buried urban rivers. They even came up with a clever iphone app that allows users to locate the rivers beneath their feet in Montreal!

Some cool photos of Toronto's buried rivers.
posted by Kabanos at 9:37 AM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Kid Charlemagne: "St. Louis has one of these. It was tightly chaneled for the 1904 World's Fair and laters was sealed in completely. It starts northwest of Forest park near Pennsylvania and Vernon and comes out near Manchester and Macklind.

Let's just say that the 20's through 60's were not kind to the River Des Peres. A major chunk of my sewer bill is currently going to disentangling the sanitary and storm sewers created back then.
"

Damn, you beat me to it. Actually, a *lot* of cities have combined sewers; the idea of un-combining them just came a little later to StL. At least MSD has been making any refurbished building have separate sanitary and stormwater piping up to the public right of way for the last 15 years.
posted by notsnot at 10:44 AM on October 24, 2012


Melbourne - and, I imagine, many cities of a similar age - turned many of the creeks around the city into subterranean storm drains in order to put freeways over the top. The loss of a waterway was easily trumped by the financial gains of destroying a green corridor in lieu of the compulsory acquisitions that would have been necessary to build over any other land.
posted by notionoriety at 11:46 AM on October 24, 2012


The Muddy River really isn't as covered over as many of these other rivers. Thank you, Mr. Olmsted.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:28 PM on October 24, 2012


I love these stories; thank you everyone.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:56 PM on October 24, 2012


Ben Aaronovitch wrote an entertaining book called Rivers of London that featured the living embodiment of the rivers. File under "urban fantasy".Don't go by the write-up, it's actually pretty clever. Recommended.

It also prompted me to do an FPP about London's underground rivers, but I never got around to it. Some of my research found this excellent article (pictures at the bottom) about exploring the Fleet. And this one (be sure to check out the links in the "Related" section).
posted by ashbury at 8:15 PM on October 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


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