“For landscape architects today, urbanism and water go hand in hand. Whether dealing with issues of sea level rise, groundwater retention, or just plain old water supply infrastructure, landscape architects are working with scientists, engineers, and policy makers on increasingly bigger projects that encompass more external factors and larger networks of physical, biological, environmental, and political networks. We examine some of these water landscapes and how they relate to each other in the broader context of how resources and climate-related changes are being managed.”
The grid locates these twelve projects in the field, with poles ranging on one axis from Decadence to Survival and on the other pole from Not Enough to Too Much. It’s a simple diagram that shows the complexity of water and the need for regional and adaptive solutions that address multiple problems but are also specific to place. This spans climate change, drinking water, development, and ecology — balancing all of the variety of needs for livability, economy and social equity of which water is intertwined. Check out the post for more detail, but a few highlights worthy of discussion.
The issue of climate refugees is going to continually be more and more common in the news. One such example is Shishmaref, Alaska who have “…asking whether it’s better to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or take arms against a sea of troubles to combat a looming climate change–driven disaster.” While consultants have said they should stay, a recent vote went in favor or relocating the town, which is on an island in the Bering Straight, to the safer mainland, and they are looking for the $200 million necessary to do so.
Miami is an example of a much more populated city dealing with climate issue, such as flooding and access to clean drinking water, even when the city continue to grow rapidly. “Miami’s real estate value continues to rise despite the chronic flooding risks on its waterfront. Even as local governments pour millions into tackling high tides and storm surges, deeper economic and infrastructural issues loom as threats to growth and prosperity.”
Another interesting take on flooding, Chicago is looking at underground sand deposits that were built over, and still exist, to provide a unique resilience strategy. “The challenge is immense—for Chicago, one inch of rainfall equals four billion gallons. Until recently Chicago’s answer to the problem has been an infrastructure project no less than epic—read costly—in scale. But one landscape architect is leading an effort to change how the city can unlock its hidden potential for storm water management”
And what review of water would be complete without some discussion of the contentious LA River, (banner image above) which is being tackled by multiple teams and has created some rifts in the design community, particularly that of putting Frank Gehry in charge of the latest public sceme. One postive from the Gehry team (in addition to including a good mix of other disciplinares) that I’m curious about is the “L.A. River VR Experience, an initiative by media producers Camilla Andersson and Anders Hjemdahl at Pacific Virtual Reality and FoLAR… The project is currently in the final stages of production and features a VR tour along the entire LA River. “
Lots more, so check out all of these brief articles and the matrix of abundance and scarcity and decadence and survival is a unique frame to look at water solutions. Finally, for more in-depth look at one of these projects, check out my post over at Hidden Hydrology to find out more on the Town Branch Commons project by SCAPE and the ‘daylighting’ of an urban waterway in Lexington, Kentucky.
The USGS tool TopoView offers access to digitized maps from 1879 to the current day – which is an amazing resource for looking at landscape change over time. Using an online mapping tool, you can access maps from 250,000 scale down to 24,000 for the entire US , including Alaska and Hawaii. The maps are downloadable in multiple formats, including JPEG, KMZ, GEOPDF, and GEOTIFF and are full size scans – so render in reasonably high resolution.
A sample of some maps (sized down from the original resolution) from the north section of Portland, ranging from 1897 through 1961 shows the difference in land use and geography – as well as indicates the shifting graphical standards of USGS maps over the years. I especially like seeing the urbanization patterns, movement of industrial lands into areas like the Columbia Slough and the (d)evolution of Guilds Like in the NW Industrial area. I hope to add these to the layering of historical mapping that we’ve already developed.
There are definitely more maps I wish existed – in different sizes – but as referenced on the site, the maps were created to highlight different features of land use – so it wasn’t fully consistent. Per the website:
“In 1879, the USGS began to map the Nation’s topography. This mapping was done at different levels of detail, in order to support various land use and other purposes. As the years passed, the USGS produced new map versions of each area. The most current maps are available from The National Map. TopoView shows the many and varied older maps of each area, and so is useful for historical purposes—for example, the names of some natural and cultural features have changed over time, and the ‘old’ names can be found on these historical topographic maps.”
For more info – a short video walks through the usage of the TopoView features. A resource worth more exploration for sure.
I recently gave a talk at the great annual conference Urban Ecology Research Consortium of Portland/Vancouver (UERC), which focuses on ” advance the state of the science of urban ecosystems and improve our understanding of them”. I was really excited to be chosen to present (i had done a poster presentation in past years), and it seemed a great way to introduce the Hidden Hydrology of Portland and what work has been done to date.
Much of this has been covered on the L+U blog – but there’s new ideas worth exploration, and some new momentum to realize some of the site-specific installations discussed here. A short visual recap:
My first experience with the concept was stumbling over the ‘Disappearing Streams’ map produced by Metro. Not sure of the vintage – but I remember seeing this easily in the late 1990s, and it’s stuck with me for years. Not actual streams but modeled topography generating basins – the concept is pretty simple – show what streams existed, and highlight those buried, piped, channeled in red, which is predominately on the inner east side and downtown.
A bit of digging yields a great set of maps, the Cadastral Survey of 1852 provides amazing detail of a nascent Portland, with stream corridors like Tanner Creek still intact running through downtown Portland, and other ecological resources (wetlands, lakes) as well as trails and early city grid (seen to the right)
A few folks share this passion, such as David James Duncan, who talks of disappeared streams in his book ‘My Story as Told by Water’ (2002) and historical account from folks like fellow Tanner Creek nerd Tracy Prince, who has authored some great accounts of the areas in Goose Hollow and Slabtown, evoking origins of place names, connections to hidden creeks, and tying this together with the rich history of Portland’s development.
Many layers interact in painting the picture of hidden hydrology. Photos are another great resource – with historic scenes of sewer creating, as well as floods and other historical events.
Beyond the Cadastral Survey, a wealth of maps exist, ranging from the mid 1850s through today – which paint a temporal portrait of the path of waterways over time – such as Tanner Creek, here shown still in existence in 1866.
And through an illustrative Aerial Lithograph here in 1870 – again showing the Tanner Creek drainage from the West Hills through the north portion of downtown.
Using these tools we can start to craft maps that take the historical and overlaying information – in this case a composite of Cadastral survey mapping, amended with other information, notes, and annotations – a layered history in map format. These could easily be hosted online (a future plan) for additional input and integration with stories, photos, experience.
The process of extracting this information from the survey – shown here in a few steps – involves 1) referencing the historical layers, 2) adding streams and other water bodies, 3) adding additional info such as wetlands and other topographic featueres, and 4) georeferencing and overlaying the historic with the current day mapping. A reverse map regression that allows us to create an interesting connection between then and now.
Because the Cadastral survey is based on the Public Land Survey System (PLSS) – the township, section, range geometry (see the faint orange lines in the map above allow the historic and modern to overlap with reasonable fidelity through cartographic rectification. The maps then, overlaid with GIS data – then digitized into shapefiles with linked data – start to allow us to provide some more detailed analysis – such as for instance, correlating basement flooding in proximity to old streams?
The second part of the talk focused on interventions – as the maps are compelling, but the ability to use them for actions are key, both in terms of expanding the validity of our interventions, but also to connect folks everyday to their hidden nature.
My colleague Matt Burlin and I have been talking about tours of the Hidden Hydrology for some time – so recently took the field maps for Tanner Creek and traced them from up towards the headwaters near Washington Park Zoo, down through the west hills and through downtown.
There are portions that still exist – albeit in a somewhat degraded form – but the visceral thrill of seeing this stream was compelling – The immersion in the sounds and experiences of these remnants is worth further visits.
And as you get to the urban sections, the natural remnants make way to a creek completely hidden – save a subtle topographic cue and some cultural interventions of markers and Tanner Springs Park, before getting to the current outfall location in the Willamette, near Centennial Mills.
How do we interact with that which is hidden, bringing lost layers of history back to the surface. Some great art installations provide inspirations that could be applied to hidden hydrology, for instance the Freen The Billboards project (which used fixed viewfinders to overlay images on billboards)…
Could be applied in zones to allow one to click through a series of images that show the stages of current, mapping, routing, and location of historical waterways – in this case a simple illustration of how this would work for Tanner Creek.
And drawing from the functional aspects of utility locates with the community artistry of intersection repair…
…one could imagine a meandering Tanner Creek weaving its way through downtown and northwest Portland streets, taking the idea of a couple of markers in the sidewalk to a much higher level of engaging and awareness in the underlying historical systems.
Thinking beyond a map or a kiosk with some informational interpretation, the array of interventions together provide multiple ways to engage, and coupled with technology could yield self-guided walking tours, vivid sound maps, and immerse multi-media experiences.
On a larger scale, the idea of Hidden Hydrology inspires thinking about community and our connections to each other. The concept of Neighborsheds, which i coined in the mid 2000s and presented at the ASLA National Conference about – involves using these natural drainages to redefine neighborhood boundaries. By rethinking political or cultural boundaries defined outside of natural systems, we can reconnect to our place in new ways. This knowledge is perceptual on one hand – but can engage folks in shared commitment – because if you’re in the neighborshed, all of your actions become innately connected in you cumulative impact downstream.
Finally, for me the concept of the Hidden Hydrology is tied to the larger ecological history. There is no better project to illustrate this that the Mannahatta Project (read more on a post here) which in it’s broader incarnation as The Welikia Project, takes the notion of historic mapping and blends field observations of biotic and abiotic factors in a rich and illustrative composite that is both rigorous and compelling.
My call to action, to create this detailed historical ecology for Portland, blending historical mapping with history, archaeology, anthropology, ecology, and other disciplines to paint a vivid picture of this historical ecology.
Beyond being fodder for art and culture, defining neighborsheds, or ways of engaging in urban exploration and wayfinding – there are some key opportunities available with this information. This can be inspiration for design interventions, can guide decisions about habitat, ecology, water, runoff, vegetation, and other factors, not in a general sense but in a block by block, historical watershed and stream basin scale.
The overlay and congruency with the hidden streams and our subsurface pipe systems is no accident – each are governed by system conditions of gravity. One is surficial and the other is hidden, so opportunities for making adjustments to the gray systems can be augmented with opportunities to use the green systems – with potentials for daylighting, integration of green stormwater infrastructure, and replication of pre-development hydrology. These decisions aren’t just based on current conditions (i.e. paved, permeable, landcover), but can be guided by understanding and modelling the pre-development hydrology – the best guide to how a particular basin wants to act by referencing how it worked before we altered it.
Finally, the concept of a pre-development metric is used for many things – to set stormwater management goals, to measure runoff in site and basin scales, and to set targets for sustainability for ecodistricts and other planning scale efforts. The return to the ‘native forest’ is a generalization of the pre-development condition, and also becomes a technological construct. Rather than pre-development condition, let’s thing of historical ecological function, which begins to not just provide us with numbers to meet, but also blends the vegetated, the ecological, the habitat, the cultural with the historic sounds, smells, textures, and colors the historical places before we forever altered them.
We won’t restore these to their natural state in all but a few selected places, but if we can restore, through metaphor, interaction, and intervention, the experience of these places, blended artfully with what they are now – places to live, shop, play – we reveal these hidden layers of inspiration to the urban experience.
A short video of the presentation is in development – and a longer follow-up, brownbag session is in the works – so look out for details.
A project of note that made the rounds over the past month resonated with the concept of Hidden Hydrology. The project ‘Ghost Arroyos‘, proposed as part of the Market Street Prototyping Festival paints the town blue, in a sense. I definitely like this idea, as we’ve discussed doing a similar exploration of Portland’s Tanner Creek.
“Every city has invisible histories embedded within its landscape. This project, “Ghost Arroyos” seeks to reveal the forgotten waterways of San Francisco through a simple, but powerful intervention. Situated between 7th and 9th street, the project will abstractly mark the footprint of Hayes Creek onto the urban surface. Visitors to the festival will be invited to trace the extent of the waterway while listening to a curated recording of hydrological soundscapes and oral histories”
Sounds much like the hidden hydrology proposals – and i’m curious to see it happen and what hurdles need to be overcome in implementation. Also, the soundscapes and oral histories are an interesting concept – that we’ve been exploring as well, so lots of great alignment to draw from.
Upper Yosemite Creek Daylighting
In digging into this project a bit, there was also a link to a proposed actual creek daylighting being proposed by the City of San Francisco is the Upper Yosemite Creek.
From the site: “The Upper Yosemite Creek Daylighting project will daylight the ephemeral historic Yosemite Creek to manage flows from 110 acres of McLaren Park. The creek will flow along the northern edge of McLaren Park from Yosemite marsh through Louis Sutter Playground and along the southern edge of University Mound Reservoir. The project will feature a creek channel to convey stormwater and alleviate localized flooding issues as well as storage and infiltration facilities. This project is the first creek daylighting project initiated by the City and will reintroduce natural habitat and provide opportunities for community learning and beautification.”
The reports are worth checking out – as it’s an interesting concept. The new ‘creek’ is a hybrid, while daylighting, the configuration, as seen above, interfaces with the built environment in a somewhat orderly manner and starts to look more like green stormwater infrastructure than natural waterways. This mediating between what was and the ‘functional’ aspects of the restoration is worth further exploration.
Two great examples from San Francisco on hidden hydrology in action.
Over the next week, I have been outlining some of the inspirations and precedents related to the idea of Hidden Hydrology of Portland, as this project has been shaped and has evolves across many years to it’s present incarnation. As I mentioned in the preliminary overview, one of the main inspirations was the map of ‘Disappeared Streams’ that was produced by Metro. My first encounter with this map was during a presentation at DaVinci Arts middle school, as part of the preliminary planning for what would become their beautiful water garden. At the time I was working with local non-profit Urban Water Works – and the students were showing off many of their water-related side projects, including hand-made flowforms, studies of water movement, and mapping. One student had a GIS application that was showing the disappeared streams – which has stuck in my brain every since. Metro now publishes it in map form – available at the Data Resource Center – along with many other great maps.
As I mentioned there are a few methodological caveats to this map – as it is not a historical representation of actual streams, but looking more specifically at locations of potential water routes. From the map, some of this language:
“Development patterns in the Metro region have historically resulted in piping, culverting, or filling of streams and stream beds. A computer mapping program was used to evaluate the terrain in the region, and to generate areas where major streams (those draining 50+ acres of land) may once have existed. While this does not represent an authoritative analysis, it does visually describe the effects of urbanization on the regions natural systems. This exercise indicates that an estimated 388 miles of previously existing streams are now underground.”
The coding of the map is pretty striking (the choice of ‘blood’ red I think fitting) when viewed as a whole (above) particularly noting the core area of Portland that has been denuded of streams over the course of 150 years (below, closeup of City of Portland), where flatter areas were developed for Eastside residential, and margins on the Willamette filled in for industrial development.
You can also get a close-up view,including the central business district – seen in closeup below. Notice the existing pattern, where streams are kept somewhat intact in the west hillsides (topography being somewhat of an antidote to piping), then quickly buried when they reach the urbanized area. Tanner Creek, one of the hidden streams we will be studying closer, is captured as it originates from the Oregon Zoo and cuts through the northwest corner of downtown.
A relatively simple map that is more evocative than accurate, but does much to reinforce the ideology of what is hidden beneath our developed urban areas. As I mentioned, it has stuck with me (and I’m glad Metro still has these available). One of the stronger and original inspirations for the project, it continues to entertain and inspire investigation into our hidden hydrology.
Another inspiration for the Hidden Hydrology of Portland is the writing of David James Duncan (author of a couple of my favorite books, the Brothers K amongst the best). In a book of essays from 2002 entitled ‘My Story as Told by Water‘ Duncan tells some stories with a Portland area spin about his youthful explorations in the area. The idea of oral histories providing an additional layer to mapping and other on-the-ground study is intriguing, as the narrative is both informative and evocative of what these lost urban waterways meant, and what was lost along with them.
Early in his childhood, he mentions growing up on Mount Tabor (the volcanic outgrowth in East Portland – not the biblical version, seen above between downtown and Mt. Hood in the image), and his quote worth discussing hints at the disconnect between the modern city and the natural processes which shape and feed these places:
“My birth-cone’s slopes were drained by tiny seasonal streams, which, like most of the creeks in that industrialized quadrant of Portland, were buried in underground pipes long before I arrived on the scene. … I was born, then, without a watershed. On a planet held together by gravity and fed by rain, a planet whose every creature depends on water and whose every slope works full-time, for eternity, to create creeks and rivers. I was born with neither. The creeks of my birth-cone were invisible, the river from somewhere else entirely.” (p.4)
The water system from early in Portland’s history, was stored at high points like Mount Tabor and piped to surrounding neighborhoods. This shot from 1912 shows one of the reservoirs that are still in operation today (for how long, is a good question).
The artificiality of the watershed is evident in Duncan’s discussions, as he makes do with building creeks using the hose and the power of gravity (much to his mothers chagrin) – using with water delivered to reservoirs and coming to his tap, as is common in many cities, from distant locales while burying the remnant hydrology that exists. A map of the water system shows the existing Bull Run watershed in relation to Portland.
Continuing this discussion on Johnson Creek on a youthful visit, showing the degradation of some of the existing waterways that has been occurring for many years. “It was just one of Portland’s dying creeks. Really, one with a much-needed but long-lost Indian name. Johnson Creek was now its anemic title. But it was twenty-six miles long, hence a little too big to bury.” (p.10)
It’s heartening to see the restoration of the creek, which is one of the few to remain on the east side in some natural form, through the work of a number of local groups such as the Johnson Creek Watershed Council, and recently there were reports of dead coho salmon found 15 miles upstream – which is significant as it is the furthest upstream anyone has noticed these species in many years, and a testament to the work on restoration and improvement. Something Duncan would appreciate, no doubt.
While water and rivers was of importance to Duncan, the main driving force for him was fishing – which drove the explorations to the wilds of the city. After leaving Mount Tabor, the family moved further east towards Gresham, and lived for a time on Osborne Road, the future route of I-205. Duncan mentions the lure of possible fishing holes, but the inaccessibility: “A spring a quarter-mile from our new house flowed into a series of backyard trout ponds for neighbors, but these ponds were picture-windowed, guard-dogged, private. The closest fish-inhabited waters to my house, so far as I knew, were the Columbia, three miles due north.” (p.17)
The story continues around the small town of Fairview, under Halsey Street, where Duncan spotted a kid and discovered a hidden world amidst the underbrush: “…the shocking thing, the magical thing, was that he was standing knee-deep in clear, lively creek water. A creek surrounded on all sides by briars so dense I’d never noticed it before.” (p.17) Later in the same spot, he saw a guy catching a trout there “a secret trout stream” and found his new exploration spot, as mentioned “Fairview Creek, it turned out, was five miles long, two-thirds wild, and amazingly full of life.” (p.18) See the location on the far right edge as it interfaces with the Columbia Slough watershed.
Following the course, he found gravel pits headwater at Mud Lake that were stocked rainbow trout, near the Kennel Club, a pond with bullheads, and always adventure in the streams. “In the plunge-pool below the Banfield Freeway culvert, I caught a thirteen-inch Giant Pacific Salamader that stared straight into my eyes, flaring and hissing like something out of Dante Volume one, till I apologized, cut my line and released it.”
The approximate area is interesting to see and compare – although the historical imagery from Google Earth (which is awesome btw) only goes back to 1990, there’s a telling transformation in a twenty year time-span (although still a fair amount of stream left intact with development. I remember this area, as my mother used to live just North of the Salish Ponds park (south of Halsey) and we took the trails through behind the Target and over into Fairview, which is a real gem and one of those places that, like Duncan, you may walk by many times without realizing it’s there. I’ve highlighted Fairview Creek in Blue.
The same area in 1990 where you can see the residential development along Fairview Creek
The denouement to this story of youthful exploration comes after a few years of fishing these urban creeks and streams:
“At six-thirty or so on a rainy April morning, I crept up to a favorite hole, threaded a worm on a hook, prepared to case – then noticed something impossible: there was no water in the creek. …I began hiking, stunned, downstream. The aquatic insects were gone, barbershop crawdads gone, catfish, carp, perch, crappie, bass, countless sacrificial cutthroats, not just dying, but completely vanished. Feeling sick, I headed the opposte way, hiked the emptied creekbed all the way to the source, and there found the eminently rational cause of the countless killings. Development needs roads and drainfields. Roads and drainfields need gravel. Up in the gravel pits at the Glisan Street headwaters, the creek’s entire flow had been diverted for months in order to fill two gigantic new settling ponds. My favorite teacher was dead.” (p.22)
A case of disappeared streams, captured in a moment of time from someone that was there. The sadness in this loss is palpable, as it isn’t just a line on a map, but a leaving & breathing part of someone – both their history and their essence. This sort of study of writings offers many opportunities for exploration through history, and can reveal much about a place in the past. Combined with oral histories from residents and other qualitative study, it offers a dimension that maps just can’t on their own. Thus looking beyond the map to the history is vital and inspirational going forward.
(all page references are to: Duncan, David James. My Story as Told by Water. Sierra Club Books, 2002.)
As I mentioned in the previous post, there have been a number of inspirations that led to the current work on the Hidden Hydrology of Portland. I will take this week outlining a few of the past words and images that have led to the current work. A seminal work, by Anne Whiston Spirn, is part of the great book ‘The Language of Landscape‘. This particular text was adapted into a short prose piece in Arcade Journal – although I can’t seem to find the exact issue (so anyone who knows give me a heads up).
The imagery has stayed with me, and the resonance is echoed by Spirn in a different quote in the book about the revelatory power in searching for and expressing hidden hydrology: “Revealing the presence of the buried creek is an important part of the proposal because many who live here do not even know the creek exists despite its persistent influence on their lives.” (Spirn, 2000: p.213)
The Yellowwood and the Forgotten Creek
…One day the street caved in.
Sidewalks collapsed into a block-long chasm.
People looked down, shocked to see a strong, brown, rushing river.
A truck fell into a hole like that years back,
Someone said. A whole block of homes fell in
One night a long time ago, said someone else.
They weren’t sure where.
Six months later, the hole was filled, street patched,
Sidewalks rebuilt. Years went by, people left, new folks moved in,
Water seeped, streets dipped, walls cracked.
Once a creek flowed—long before there was anyone to give it a name–coursing
Down, carving, plunging, pooling, thousands of years
Before dams harnessed its power,
Before people buried it in a sewer and built houses on top.
Now, swollen with rain and sewage, the buried creek bursts pipes, soaks soil, floods basements,
Undermines buildings. During storms brown water gushes from inlets and manholes into streets and,
Downstream, overwhelms the sewage treatment plant, overflowing into the river from which the city
Draws its water…
…Signs of hope, signs of warning are all around, unseen,
Unheard, undetected. Most people can no longer read the signs whether they live in a floodplain,
Whether they are rebuilding a neighborhood or planting the seeds of its destruction,
Whether they are protecting or polluting the water they drink,
Caring for or killing a tree.
Architects’ drawings show no roots,
No growing, just green lollipops and buildings floating on a page, as if ground were flat and blank,
The tree an object, not a life.
Planners’ maps show no buried rivers, no flowing, just streets, lines of ownership, and
Proposals for future use, as if past were not present, as if the city were merely a human construct,
Not a living, changing landscape…
…Humans are story-telling animals, thinking in metaphors steeped in landscape:
Putting down roots means commitment,
Uprooting, a traumatic event.
Like a living tree rooted in place,
Language is rooted in landscape. Imagining
New ways of living means relearning the language
Which roots life in place.
The meanings landscapes hold are
Not just metaphorical and metaphysical,
But real, their messages practical;
understanding may spell survival or extinction.
Losing or failing to hear and read
the language of landscape threatens body and spirit, for the pragmatic
and imaginative aspects of landscape language
have always coexisted.
Relearning the language that holds
Life in place is an urgent task.
My work is dedicated to its recovery
Last week, I had the honor recently of presenting at a conference with one of my idols of landscape architecture, Anne Whiston Spirn. Aside from stimulating conversation, she presented the old and new of her work from The Granite Garden through her ongoing work on the Mill Creek Project in Philadelphia, i was reminded of the tenets of persistence and the need to not work behind the scenes, but to continue to strive outwardly to make ecologically driven, research based, green and livable cities. As many know that is inspired in me through work with water and watersheds, but also storytelling and ways to make evident that which is lost or merely hidden. That inspiration comes many sources, but very much from the work of Ms. Spirn.
To capture my work and continue it in some form – i transferred some posts from the early days of my firm back in 2010 that formed the foundation of an ongoing work that is gaining more momentum in recent weeks, and worthy of a dusting off. Partially as the blog is an archive of work and things i want to capture and remember – partially it is an opportunity to rework and re-frame these issues in a new time with some new energy. Some folks will have seen this before in various forms – to others this might be new. Over the next few days, i will repost some of the inspirations, starting today with the introduction – followed by some origins gleaned from others through the readings and explorations. In all, it the various threads of this perpetually wandering generalist may be coming together to form a web, and with luck and work, a tapestry.
Hidden Hydrology – Portland Series Introduction
Originally published on Terra Fluxus – 12/21/2010
In the next year, TERRA.fluxus will be initiating a multi-phase project to explore the Hidden Hydrology of the city of Portland as the main research activity for the near future. I have been fascinated with this since my first glimpse of the Disappeared Streams map published by Metro (will get my hands on one soon and give a glimpse) and it’s eventual configuration into a 2006 ASLA Presentation on ‘Neighborsheds for Stormwater Management‘ as an preliminary exploration of the concept. The particular Metro map highlighted ‘historic’ streams that had been buried and piped through development of the City of Portland over the course of the last 150 plus years, showing existing as blue and those ‘disappeared’ in red. While many westside creeks still ran free, the entire eastside was vivid red, long covered by roads, industrial buildings, houses, parks, and more. While the methodology on that particular map was suspect (relying more on topographic analysis than hydrological markers), there are plenty of sources for historic waterways in maps, photos, and on-site investigation.
Thus the focus of the project, utilizing multiple sources to gain a more complete understanding of the underlying hydrological history of the area, with an aim towards using this information both in traditional planning and design manners, but also as the touchstone for a series of speculative works.
Portland, of course, has always been, and still is, a river city. We live around waterways and bridge lifts, and relying on water for our recreation and port traffic, as well as giving us the overall image of our city. Tucked along the banks of the Willamette and its confluence with the Columbia, the history of water mirrors the history of urbanization, from the initial settlement patterns and grids of the 1850s up to modern conditions. The early, or ‘pre-development’ snapshot is best captured in this compilation map of the 1852 Cadastral Survey, which was created right after the incorporation of Portland as a city in 1851. This map, and others (a great collection of which can be found at the Bureau of Environmental Services site), will play parts in analysis throughout the project.
You can spend hours looking at this map, and placing the vision of this early city compared to it’s eventual form. While Portland’s rivers and streams are beautiful – they are also highly troubled, with dual issues of industrial pollution and combined sewer overflows working in tandem to create issues for native fish (and people), landing many of our major waterways on lists of the most polluted rivers. The idea of hidden hydrology is evident not in the still visible (although they are intimately connected), but those ‘urban’ waterways that over the years have changed from open streams and creeks to become piped as ‘infrastructure systems’ to deal with expanding growth of the metropolis. Thus we look at the slow erasure of natural topography and hydrology at work in a political sphere, and begin to see what remains of this palimpsest.
The most urban example is found in Tanner Creek, the historic downtown river that wound through downtown for over fifty years, remaining intact (in form if not in quality) through urbanization, as seen in this 1881 illustration looking at downtown towards the northeast.
The proximity of this creek to development (and the Tannery) led to pollution and sanitation issues downstream, so as with many urban creeks, a period of modernization happened, in this case the 1917 implementation of the Tanner Creek Sewer project. This forever buried the main stem of this historic creek through the heart of downtown in brick vault sewer (many of which are still functioning, or have recently been replaced).
While the historic are interesting in their own right (and there are ample sources of material to digest so more to come on this), the interaction of the new and old is both dynamic and informative. Moving to the Southeast Quadrant, we can isolate the more detailed Cadastral maps (the survey developed the township, section geometry used today, thus giving us the ability to overlay old and new with a measure of precision). The coverage through the 1850s and 60s is quite extensive, and will be useful when reconciled with the existing GIS coordinate systems. An inverted version of the original survey maps gives an indication of their density of information. The study area will be in the upper right hand quadrant of this township scale map.
A series of maps utilize GIS layering along with historical mapping underlayment to create a modern ‘routing’ for a stream in the lower Taggart basin. First a section of the historical map (1852) was analyzed for hydrologic features (river, stream, wetland, etc.) based on the map features present at the time of the survey. These are accented to show their location for referencing to other maps.
The topography and street grid are overlaid to show the relationship of water features to current configurations. The addition of hillshade allows for fine-tuning of hydrological features to match remnant topographic that has not been leveled or erased through development.
Following this, the combined ‘hybrid’ map is reconciled into a workable base that is accurate to the historical location of ‘urban streams’ as well as current urban form. Additional layers are added, and the iterations of analyses are only limited by time and usefulness. Groundwater, soils, historical aerial photos, vacant lands, floodplains, and vegetative cover are just a few that spring to mind from glancing at Metro’s stock of layers. I am also already other gathering data for a planned comparison with BES Subwatersheds, which mirror directly the configuration of subsurface pipe infrastructure that replaced these open channels sometime in the last 100+ years. While our technology allows us to perform feats unbelievable to the 19th century Portander in lifting, pumping, and moving materials, there is still an inherent consistency and efficiency of using gravity to move water and waste that still makes these historic systems relevant as blueprints for existing conditions.
The other idea is to use this information for potential projects and interventions – looking opportunistically at the relationship of these systems over time and space. To kick of this aspect, the next phase of analysis for this area will also be to ‘ground-truth’ the map hybrids – through a series of documented urban explorations (in the spirit of the Center for Land Use Interpretation perhaps?), along with further refinement, historical research, and analysis throughout 2011.