I am currently spending much of my time working in support of the Detroit Works Project, an ambitious long-term vision for the future of Detroit, which I will certainly write more about soon. When I have a few spare moments at work, my mind wanders to stormwater management efforts and daylighting urban waterways. Indeed, I look forward to spending more time working on the Bloody Run Creek Greenway Redevelopment Project, previously introduced on the Field Notes blog. Meanwhile, I have been reading up on other daylighting projects across the country.
Several sources cite stream daylighting projects in Berkeley, CA as early progenitors of other creek diversion and restoration projects. In particular, Strawberry Creek is a waterway that runs exposed through the UC Berkeley campus but is piped through most of the city to the San Francisco Bay. In the 1980s, a portion of the creek that ran under an old railyard was daylit within the context of a larger neighborhood park. The creek is now a cherished amenity, which has boosted property values, reduced local crime and contributed to stormwater management. Notably, city officials initially resisted the proposed park and Strawberry Creek’s success is largely due to the spirited support of the surrounding community.
Gilkey Creek, Flint
Closer to home in Flint, MI, the daylighting of Gilkey Creek from 2007-2009 turned an often-overwhelmed underground drainage culvert into a natural waterway, effectively eliminating flood risks in a frequently-inundated area. This environmental restoration project daylit 1100 feet of the creek and the included a retention pond, stream bank and wetlands meadow with native plantings that further contribute to stormwater management. And in Kalamazoo, the Arcadia Creek daylighting project linked ecological and economic revitalization. This effort included early buy-in from local businesses and nearby property owners, contributing to its success. Additionally, the Arcadia daylighting project includes a stormwater pond that is designed as a public amphitheater and further contributes the overall impact on the city’s downtown redevelopment. These examples illustrate the potential benefits of creek daylighting in terms of stormwater management and environmental rehabilitation, as well as community and economic development
The term daylighting refers to the restoration of a stream that was once diverted into a culvert pipe or drainage system. In general, daylit creeks and urban wetlands have the potential to serve as natural drainage systems that contribute to the retention and filtration of stormwater runoff. In many cases, daylighting projects do not necessarily unearth covered creeks, but rather approximate former riparian routes and sometimes serve as sewer separation strategies. Importantly, in city’s with combined sewer systems, the restoration of urban waterways diverts stormwater from municipal treatment facilities, potentially reducing polluted discharge into larger bodies of water. According to The New York Times, 772 cities across the country have combined systems, which collect wastewater and storm runoff in the same pipes, and are designed to overflow during heavy rains, rather than overwhelm treatment plants.
As in many older cities, combined sewer overflow afflicts Detroit, and the city would benefit greatly from increased efforts at environmentally-sensible stormwater management. The implementation of wetlands and daylit waterways could provide a partial means to this end. At present, the local Sierra Club chapter and the city’s Green Task Force Water Subcommittee, as well as the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, are working to improve stormwater management in the city and reduce the risk of overwhelming the combined sewer system. However, much work remains to be done. One of the driving factors of the Bloody Run Creek project is the impact that the proposed waterway could make on the diversion, retention and filtration of stormwater runoff. Correspondingly, one of the most exciting aspects of the project for me is the potential to complement and collaborate with other progressive stormwater solutions already at play in the city. As our team pushes the project forward, it is important to note that for many daylighting precedents, public participation was central to success. In particular, educating and engaging with the surrounding communities early in the planning process often contributed to ongoing investment and support.
To close, I want to highlight one more ambitious project that may provide an ideal precedent for citywide stormwater improvements along sustainable lines. Philadelphia’s Green City, Clean Waters program is a 25-year plan to “protect and enhance [their] watersheds by managing stormwater with innovative green infrastructure.” In early April of this year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency endorsed the city’s plans for green stormwater management, an important step in a game-changing endeavor. Detroit boasts similar potential. Please see the resources below for additional information.
Arcadia Creek, Kalamazoo