(Editor's note: This is Part 1 in a 3-part series on the Bay Area watershed)
The proposal to convert Center Street in Berkeley from an asphalt thoroughfare to a park-like promenade -- revealing a long-hidden underground creek -- is the latest twist in the interesting and often-controversial story of the Bay Area's heavily-modified waterways.
The Center Street project is a striking reversal of a century-old trend towards burying Berkeley's creeks below ground. It's also an example of the relatively new practice of "daylighting" forgotten waterways, a trend said to have been unintentionally sparked forty years ago in nearby Napa.
In the 1970s, as part of the redevelopment of its downtown, the City of Napa stumbled upon a new way of thinking about the urban watershed: Instead of leaving the Napa River buried, engineers removed its
cover, exposing it to daylight.
"In the 70s, there was the redevelopment," Barry Martin, Napa's Public Information Officer explained to Streetsblog. "and a number of buildings were taken down. The creek ran underneath some structures, so as they were designing this urban renewal project, [daylighting] was part of that."
"I don't think there was any environmental thinking going on at that time," he added.
Some urban planners debate whether Napa's construction in the 70s constitutes the country's first daylighting project. In 2003, Steve Donnelly, then co-director of the Urban Creeks Council, dismissed the project as the nation's first, saying
, "all they did was take the top off a concrete channel."
Uncovering the waterway didn't fix Napa's watershed problems, either.
Forty years after its restoration began, Napa still struggles
with the health of the Napa River: Frequent flooding plagued the city
during the past decades, and engineers are only now getting the water
flow under control, in part thanks to tactics similar to those employed
by the settlers of 200 years ago.
In the 1800s, residents recognized that the east side of the
river's oxbow was too wet to use in winter, and set aside the land as a
summer fairground. An amphitheater now sits on the land, but there's
more to the park than meets the eye: It serves as a buffer during
floods, redirecting overflow away from more vulnerable areas. Read more...