Daylighting, also called ‘duculverting’, is the process of uncovering lost rivers by removing obstructions that are covering them and restoring the rivers to their previous condition. Generally, these rivers have been buried in drainage systems or redirected as urban areas developed and required buildable surface areas.
Burying city waterways often has unintended consequences such as degrading natural habitats, increasing downstream flooding and increasing the urban heat effect. Daylighting re-establishes waterways to their original pathways where possible, providing aesthetic, economic and environmental benefits for city dwellers, human or otherwise.
The trend is growing in popularity among city planners, with some of the world’s most well-known cities daylighting rivers in recent years. In 2020 the Paris city council announced it would revive the Bièvre to mitigate the heat island effect and prevent flooding. New York is in the process of uncovering the Saw Mill River while the Cheonggyecheon in Seoul is one of the most prominent recovered urban streams, credited for revitalising a whole neighbourhood.
In Switzerland, daylighting is so popular the concept has even been recognised in Zurich’s local laws. Known as ‘Bachkonzept’, translated as the ‘stream concept’, the city has been daylighting urban rivers for over 30 years. The process is so common that urban planners now find ways to ensure restored rivers even complement local architecture.
While the benefits are multiple the daylighting process is often technically complex and labour-intensive, requiring the extensive engineering, earthmoving and landscape design. Thus the daylighting process requires significant planning, but where these rivers can be uncovered they provide immediate opportunities for further revitalisation in the surrounding area.
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