Sunday, 27 October 2013

Place Hacking Hammersmith Creek

As I walk to and from Lancaster University, I pass an interpretation board which celebrates the recent de-culverting of Burrow Beck in Hala Square. It took three months of work to remove the twenty-year-old, fifty-four meter-long culvert, and the newly revealed brook should reduce the risk of flooding, improve water quality and fish migration, and reconnect the local community to the river. Local schoolchildren were involved in designing the logo for the interpretation board itself, and I have indeed spotted pied and yellow wagtails perching on stones in the newly opened Beck (though I have yet to see the roach and brown trout we've been promised). So this would seem to be an entirely positive local environmental development.

We won’t any time soon be de-culverting the Hammersmith Creek beside Kelmscott House in London (though this has, of course, been one of the post-revolutionary tasks cheerfully undertaken in News from Nowhere), so we may have to adopt another approach in this case. The notion of place hacking, defined as ‘recreational trespass in the built environment’, has gained a lot of traction recently through the publication of Bradley L. Garrett’s Explore Everything: Place Hacking in the City (Verso). Garrett seems to be as at home in underground tunnels or disused military installations as he is on the counterweight of a crane 400 feet above the ground.

So in the spirit of place hacking a particularly hardy group of Morris Society volunteers, equipped with hard hats, wellies and powerful torches, might boldly venture up the Hammersmith Creek culvert at low tide, digitally recording everything as they go – a record which could then be played to visitors to the Coach House. In this way, we will at least keep interest alive in a waterway which may one day rejoin other lost London rivers (Counters Creek, River Fleet, the Tyburn, the Walbrook, and so on) in coming above ground again.


Kotick said...

Tony, it’s also worth noting that in the new San Francisco of Ernest Callenbach’s ‘Ecotopia’, “down Market Street and other streets, creeks now run. These had earlier, at great expense, been put into huge culverts underground, as is usual in cities. The Ecotopians spent even more to bring them up to ground level again” (p.12). Looks like de-culverting will be a persistent motif in green utopias!

Tony Pinkney said...

Many thanks for the Callenbach reference. I can't remember any de-culverting in my own favourite green utopia - Kim Stanley Robinson's 'Pacific Edge', but perhaps I just need to go back and read the book carefully again.

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