Starter Kit

Daylighting Islais Creek through Maps


A map is a representation of the physical world, and it communicates a story through a careful management of shapes, colors, textures, and layers. This Starter Kit is a geographic information science (a mapping) approach to critical infrastructure, and tries to separate out the infrastructural components of a city at the urban-water nexus. The urban-water nexus describes the geographic areas at which humans and water interact. Central to this approach is the consideration of climate change, and how its increasing variability and unpredictability will affect human life.

One attempt to address the challenges of climate change at the urban-water nexus is to revitalize more sustainable practices in water management. Decades of urban development have redirected many creeks, rivers, and streams to underground culverts, which sometimes results in flooding and destruction when capacity is reached. “Daylighting” these water bodies allows them to follow more of their natural flow and makes them less prone to flooding. The technique is increasing in popularity as the urgency to address climate change intensifies, and can involve cultural restoration too (see this blog post.) As someone who loves water and the Bay Area, I feature Islais Creek in San Francisco, California, as my area of interest to daylight, both in map form below and across several blog posts. I choose to layer those traditional infrastructural elements of an urban environment such as highways, roads, bridges, and buildings with aquatic features such as shoreline, marshes, and rivers. Each map layer “daylights” some aspect of urban and aquatic infrastructure across time and space, and culminates in a series of maps that I call NEXUS. In NEXUS, one can see all of the urban structures of a city, but where there is water, I leave the historical map of Islais Creek, so that the map reader can be reminded of the centrality of water to urban life.

Situating this Work within Geography

Geography is an incredibly diverse and broad field. While a general definition of geography might be “the study of the physical features of the earth and its atmosphere” as well as the “human activity as it affects and is affected by these”, I would describe the field of geography as encompassing any theoretical development or empirical research that privileges a perspective of “space” and “place.” If you are exploring how the location of a phenomenon affects the nature of the phenomenon, you are doing geographic research!

Here at UC Santa Barbara, the research interests vary wildly across human geography, physical and atmospheric sciences, climate change and variability, space/time knowledge and organization, and geographic information systems (GIS). While I work in the realm of networks of human activity, I have extensive experience in geographic information systems. GIS allows a researcher to layer multiple aspects of geographic information for analysis or visualization. If a Starter Kit in a humanistic discipline like English literature might ask where one starts in reading about a given topic of interest, a GIS might start by examining the spatial information of a given area of interest. This Starter Kit communicates a bit about the spatial and geographic qualities of the critical infrastructure present at my area of interest, Islais Creek.

How the Starter Kit was Made

This Starter Kit was made using ArcScene, a product from ESRI that allows one to view geographic data layers in 3 dimensions. In a future blog post, I would like to unpack the black box that hides the technical aspects that went into making this project (for example, I had a great suggestion to add population data, maybe to the “Urban” map, so that one might see “what’s at stake” for the people living in this area.) For now, please enjoy the layers and final product that constitute my Starter Kit: Daylighting Islais Creek through Maps.

The Starter Kit

Islais Creek
Islais Creek
Historic Shoreline
Islais Creek
Islais Creek
Islais Creek
Islais Creek
Islais Creek
Islais Creek
Modern Shoreline
Islais Creek
Islais Creek
Urban, Water
Islais Creek
Islais Creek
Islais Creek


Layer Date Created or Last Modified Source
Historical Map 1895 (SF), 1896 (San Mateo) The National Geological Map Database
Historical Water & Marsh, Modern Shoreline 1998 San Francisco Estuary Institute
Highways, Bridges 2017, 2015 Caltrans
Roads 2018 Data.Gov
Buildings 2017 DataSF

Additional Information

Feel free to check out my GitHub repository with all of the data layers I use for this project.

And if you’d like more information on Islais Creek and its daylighting journey, please check out my blog posts!

Published on December 10, 2018