Broaching the brook: daylighting, community and the 'stickiness' of water

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Over the last century, under the modern hydraulic model, waterways across the world have been heavily canalized and culverted, driven into underground pipes, drains and sewers. This hydraulic approach has hardwired an isolated water network into the urban fabric, fragmenting erstwhile patterns and dynamics of life, both human and nonhuman. Ecologically, it has been hugely damaging, reducing water quality and biotic diversity, but also socially, disconnecting citizens from the waterways that service and characterize the city. Consequently, since the 1990s, waterway restoration has become widespread as a design solution to degraded rivers and streams, reinstating compromised hydrological, geomorphological and ecological processes. Deculverting or ‘daylighting’, the focus of this paper, is a radical form of restoration, opening up subterranean, culverted waterways often forgotten by communities above ground. Yet, as this paper emphasizes, waterway restoration has tended to privilege ecological over social objectives, while public engagement in project conceptualization has been limited, conducted ‘downstream’ subsequent to planning and design stages. Restoration schemes have therefore tended to reflect the concerns of professionals rather than communities, overlooking their potential for social renewal and change. Drawing on workshop data collected through participatory mapping exercises, this paper explores the case for daylighting a culverted brook in Urmston, Greater Manchester, focusing in particular on the preferences, concerns and knowledge of local residents. The paper compares professional and community perspectives on the preferred scheme design and potential benefits of daylighting, drawing out differences and tensions between them, temporarily ‘unblackboxing’ the brook. It is ventured that daylighting can unleash the social ‘stickiness’ of water, its proclivity to draw and bind together, to revitalize the park, enhancing connection to wildness, attachment to place and sense of community. This is particularly crucial in the face of decreased local authority funding and related crises in park management.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-28
Number of pages28
JournalEnvironment and Planning E: Nature and Space
Publication statusPublished - 25 Sept 2020


  • water
  • nature
  • community
  • planning
  • daylighting
  • rewilding
  • science studies
  • participation
  • infrastructure


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