My last post referenced the move to daylight Sawmill River in Dartmouth. For some years it has been concealed in a giant culvert. There are lots of interesting arguments  for daylighting and for those I direct you to Sam Austin’s article in Spacing Atlantic.  Another candidate for daylighting  in Halifax is Freshwater Brook that started at North Street and flowed through the Commons, Public Gardens and Victoria Park, and eventually entered the harbour at the bottom of Inglis Street.

I don’t have any special knowledge about the local proposals but I have seen a couple of rivers that were successfully daylighted:  in Seoul, Korea and Providence, Rhode Island. I can tell you what we experienced as eyewitnesses,  always remembering that eyewitness testimony is notoriously inaccurate.

Cheonggyecheon, an 8 km stream through the centre of Seoul Korea, had been buried under a highway. The will to remove the highway and recreate the steam came slowly and at great cost. The project was completed in 2005, and we saw it 2 years ago. The stream has a symbolic beginning with a tall statue and a waterfall. The stream bed is well below surrounding street levels  providing a wonderful separation. There are smart design elements like stepping stones  and a stepped edge. 


Down stream there is room for some vegetation to naturalize. We saw a group of volunteers with clipboards inventorying plants. This green corridor was between two major roads and beside one of the largest markets in town .

Search results for Mongolia

A stepped section of the stream was the perfect place for us to sit when were were suddenly overcome with jet lag.  A group of Korean ladies came over to offer us some of their lunch. It was that kinda place.


My sense was that the stream was an important part of the narrative of modern Seoul, sort of like how we think of the new Central Library.

Providence, like many New England communities, was built along rivers that were power sources for big brick mills. At some point the rivers of Providence became so unpleasant and polluted they were mostly covered over and became brilliant parking lots. When the mills closed and the downtown was failing there was a bold plan to daylight the rivers and sculpt them into a stone lined channel crossed by decorative bridges.

My understanding is that initially  it was a bit like our waterfront: attractive to look at but the citizens were unaccustomed to using the space and didn’t know how  to incorporate it into their lives.  When we happened by the main basin, for example, it looked pretty but there was nothing going on.


When we looked at tourist literature for Providence the top two attractions they mentioned were their fine university (Brown) and the exciting Rhode Island School of Design. The institutions  made the city smart and fun.  (What do you think Halifax?)  It was an art work by a graduate of RISD that made the daylighted rivers and downtown Providence come alive. The art work is Water Fire.

When you describe Water Fire it doesn’t sound that special: 80 bonfires burning  in the middle of the river while a recorded sound track of music plays from speakers along the shore.    But let me assure you it was perfect.  The smell and heat  of the fires, the music changes styles from  jazz and classical in early evening to more contemporary by midnight. There is  mystery and ritual: volunteers dressed in black float silently in electric powered boats lighting and tending the fires.  Then there are the people. An average of 40,000 people attend each performance, which happen every other weekend in the summer! Providence has a population of 300,000 but the big cities are within driving distance.  We were told that Waterfire was the perfect first date event.

Rhode Island 2

For a while we sat and watched the fires and people, and then strolled along the river. Some of the highway bridges were closed and taken over by corporate sponsors who invited guests to experience the event. Imagine the feeling of  Nocturne  and you will understand some of the appeal.

Our little experiences with daylighted  rivers and streams really enhanced our visits to these new cities. Some of the success was the excellent and expensive design, but it was also important  that the citizens appeared to have embraced  the stories that the streams told.

 Special bonus!

Here is a link to a swell song  Daylight by The Kinks from their classic album Preservation: Act 1 . The album used to be on the  “10 best albums of all time”  lists.

About the author

Stephen Archibald

It’s Stephen Archibald doing the noticing. I’m a huge fan of Nova Scotia’s material culture and cultural landscapes. Twitter (@Cove17 ) made me realize I could share what attracted my attention (perfect for my very short attention) and I’m gratified when folks enjoy my content. Pleased to meet you on the internet.