How to Restore Neighborhood Streams

Restoring Neighborhood Streams / Island Press
Restoring Neighborhood Streams / Island Press

Over the last 30 years, urban stream restoration has evolved from neighborhood and non-profit-led volunteer projects to full-scale public works projects. Dr. Ann Riley, executive director of the Waterways Restoration Institute, explained this evolution of stream restoration in her 1998 book, Restoring Streams in Cities: A Guide for Policymakers, Planners, and Citizens. Eighteen years later, she documents the path of six important projects in the San Francisco Bay area in her new book, Restoring Neighborhood Steams: Planning, Design and Construction.

Restoring Neighborhood Streams dives deep into the details. However, all of us that are involved in restoring urban habitats — from streams, creeks, to shorelines — will benefit from reviewing how communities started these projects, analyzed opportunities, and applied lessons learned. She tells stories about the projects, but also delves into engineering technologies. Anyone involved in stream restoration can apply the ideas and results presented in the book to their urban green infrastructure projects.

The book begins and also ends with discussion on what “restoration” means. We view restoration through many lenses: engineering analyses, stormwater metrics, and urban aesthetics. She explains there are different degrees of restoration as well: we can enhance streams’ function or ecology, or preserve their history to certain levels.

In striving towards historic recreation, six case studies take the reader through the decision-making process needed to determine appropriate interventions. Case studies demonstrate the success of bio-engineering and imply the failure of traditional planting plans.

More pointedly, Riley argues for using a phased approach to stream restoration work, layering plant material while stabilizing channels at the same time. Riley stresses that successful work depends on a collaborative, multi-disciplinary team of landscape architects, engineers, scientists, communications specialists, and maintenance workers.

While stream restoration projects are now largely led by city public works departments, it’s  clear the key to successful projects is participation by the community. The book uses neighborhood streams as a focal point to discuss the many issues that affect communities — wildlife habitat, water quality, public safety, homelessness, education, environmental legislation, and green jobs.

If you are doing urban restoration or green stormwater infrastructure projects, reading this book should trigger many ideas. Reading through Riley’s deconstruction of these six projects should help guide you to success.

This guest post is by Peg Staeheli, FASLA, MIG | SvR

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