Like other cities, San Francisco used to be full of small streams. By the mid-1800s, when Gold Rush-fueled development filled the creeks with waste, engineers started paving them over. Now, standing on certain street corners downtown, you'd have no idea a stream was once there.
Next year, with a project called Ghost Arroyos, the city will get a temporary reminder of its past. A local designer will paint one of the historical streams on the road as part of the Market Street Prototyping Festival. "I've always been fascinated by ghost geographies, landscapes that shape the world we live in today but are invisible to the naked eye," says designer Emily Schlickman.
She discovered Hayes Creek, the now-hidden stream, by layering old maps over the festival site.
Schlickman and her collaborator, Kristina Loring, are currently developing a sound piece that aims to create an "auditory sanctuary" amidst the hectic sounds of downtown Market Street."
"I immediately began thinking of how to reveal the historical footprint of the arroyo in a way that could truly engage pedestrians," she says. "One part of the project marks the waterway on the urban surface, while the other part envelopes the 'ghost-scape' with sound."
Schlickman, who was trained as a landscape architect, will use GIS to try to map out the historical stream, though because the stream was ephemeral—shifting with the seasons and rainfall—the painting may not be precise. She hopes to show the full path of the stream from what is now Alamo Square to the mouth at the bay.
"The appearance of Ghost Arroyos is not merely to romanticize what has disappeared, but to expose the inherent change that is occurring in our cities," she says. "I think the project sits within a larger story of revealing layered 'ghost-scapes' across San Francisco and beyond, an endeavor I’d like to pursue in the future."
The project may lend a little support to the idea that San Francisco should start bringing some of the streams back. The city is currently considering "daylighting" a portion of another creek and perhaps eventually connecting it to the bay.