As urban areas become more expensive and world population becomes more city-based, it follows that residents are demanding more from their cities. Although many urban areas were located near bodies of water at the time of their founding to provide a reliable source of nutrition and transport, the evolution and expansion of cities has led to the neglect of rivers, which have either become inaccessible centres of pollution or buried under concrete and forgotten about entirely.
Although rediscovering waterfronts is nothing new, Barcelona’s pre-1992 Olympics beach slums are a far cry from today’s elegant promenade, and people have been up-cycling the old pottery fragments found on the Thames in London for years, the current scale of city competitions and projects for neglected rivers is unprecedented. In London alone, there are several projects based on creating summer places around existing bodies of water including a campaign from BBUK and 4orm to ‘daylight’ or resurface the lost River Fleet, and another project by Ooze to siphon off and naturally purify water from Regents Canal to create a temporary natural pool at a Kings Cross brownfield site.
With summer fast-approaching in the northern hemisphere, it seemed like a good time to take a look at how cities across the world are revitalising their rivers and rendering them accessible natural assets and public spaces. From urban hiking routes to new educational spaces, rivers are truly becoming a new locus for city revival.
1. +POOL, New York, USA
The + POOL began life as a Kickstarter project to create a plus-shaped swimming area in Hudson River. The project is an antidote to the polluted and inaccessible rivers of New York in that it creates a swim-friendly floating pool by water-filtering river water so that it’s clean enough for everybody to swim in. The idea has since taken off and they recently launched Float Lab, a mini, temporary and floating science-lab version of + POOL’s filtration system at Pier 40 in Hudson River Park.
2. Pasig River Rehabilitation, Manila, Philippines
The rehabilitation of the Pasig River that runs through the centre of Manila has been, and continues to be, one of the most ambitious river revitalisation projects in the world. A fatal concoction of discards from a swelling shack dwelling population with no access to sanitation or waste services together with growing industrial waste meant that the river was declared biologically dead in the early 1990s. Since then, a series of NGOs and international organisations have worked with the Filipino government to establish environmental protection areas were and resettle shack dwellers. More than 20 years after it was proclaimed biologically dead, the Pasig River is starting to show signs of life again.
3. Thames Baths Project, London, UK
A project to introduce swimming back into a city known as the Great Wen, or ‘great sewer,’ is always at first going to sound counterintuitive. But, this is exactly what Studio Octopi intend to do with an initiative to establish Thames bathing in the centre of the city. The idea is tied to the cleaning of London’s main waterway through the projected super sewer tunnel that is projected to clean the Thames considerably by 2023 and should enable the approval of bathing stations at Shadwell in the east of the city and Blackfriars Bridge. The concrete pools would be replenished by the high tide while at the same time, protecting swimmers from the tidal currents. The cleanliness of the water will see reeds fringe the floating pool and ferns, algae and saline plants to be planted throughout it.
4. Makoko Floating School Project, Lagos, Nigeria
NLÉ Architects’ floating school project uses the waterways of Lagos to create a sustainable, ecological, alternative building system and urban water culture to help address the social and physical needs of the Makoko community in the context of climate change. The community surrounded by water faces regular flooding, a paucity of infrastructure, and only has one school for 100,000 inhabitants. The floating prototype structure developed by NLÉ help tackle the unpredictable water levels to provide a community asset. The prototype launched earlier this year is a model for a potential future for the community. Although its primary purpose is as a school, it is scalable and adaptable for other uses, such as a community hub, health clinic, market, entertainment centre or housing.
5. Trinity River Corridor Project, Dallas, USA
The Trinity River Corridor Project in Dallas, Texas, aims to transform the river’s flood zone into the largest urban park in the United States. The area covered in downtown Dallas includes 20 miles of river and approximately 10,000 acres along the Trinity River flood zone. This truly is a project aiming to revitalise a natural asset, with proposals covering the establishment of flood protection, recreation space, environmental restoration, economic development, and major transportation nodes converging along the Trinity River.
6. Kallang River, Bishan Park, Singapore
© Atelier Dreiseitl
By focusing on restoring the Kallang River in the project to revitalise Bishan Park in Singapore, landscape designers Atelier Dreiseitl have transformed a utilitarian concrete channel into a naturalised river and centre for wildlife for visitors to enjoy. 62 hectares of park space were redesigned to accommodate the fluctuating water levels of the new three km river system. This is a place that has recaptured a natural asset in the most spectacular way to enable visitors to really engage with water and nature.
7. Flussbad, Berlin, Germany
The Flussbad concept by realities:united aims to provide an ecological public space as an alternative to a completely unused part of Berlin’s inner city Spree River, the Kupfergraben. With a large reed bed on the upper portion of the river to filter water, the project would effectively create the a the largest swimming pool in the world at 745m. The architects hope that by providing a large recreational facility by museum island, everyday Berlin life will be restored in this part of the city currently dominated by tourists and federal agencies.
8. Dotonbori Canal, Osaka, Japan
The canal sitting in the middle of the Dotonbori district, an area known for its nightlife, has a reputation for grime and pollution. But a project unveiled in 2013 by Taichi Sakaiya, dubbed locally as the godfather of Osaka politics sees potential for the canal to become an 800m x 12m public pool separated by concrete walls from the waters in the rest of the canal at either end, with pumps circulating clean, purified water for the pool.
9. Fez River Project, Fez, Morocco
Aziza Chaouni and Takako Tajima from Bureau E.A.S.T. have been working to revitalise the river Fez in the heart of city’s medina and UNESCO heritage site. City authorities neglected the river for a number of decades, leaving it to become an unaccessible and forgotten contaminated sewer. Chaouni and Tajima worked with the city’s water department to uncover the northern part of the river by removing the concrete slabs and restoring its banks to provide a breathing space in the centre of this historical city. They are now working to enhance open and green public spaces alongside it.
10. Río La Piedad Project, Mexico City, Mexico
Taller13 Arquitectura Regenerativa‘s initiative to revive the living systems of the Anáhuac basin by restoring biological diversity aims to deconstruct a busy viaduct and repurpose most of the materials for the regeneration of Rio La Piedad. The project also aims to reestablish the interfaces between the city and its rivers by ensuring surrounding buildings collect rain water for use, treatment and reuse, and then returned to the river as clean as possible.
11. Berges de Seine, Paris, France
Paris has reclaimed its UNESCO World Heritage Site riverbanks for pedestrians resulting in Les Berges, one of the most spectacular continuous promenades in the world through the heart of the city and enhancing the connectivity between the right and left bank of the river. The spaces have been converted into a hub of nature, culture and sport that change with the seasons to enable maximum access and use of the spaces. Large-scale planting of fauna and flora along the route, including a floating garden on an old barge, have restored a sense of ecology to this space that had been previously lost to motorists.
12. Cheonggyecheon River Project, Seoul, South Korea
Hailed as a benchmark project for river daylighting and restoring public space to forgotten rivers the Cheonggyecheon River Project in the heart of Seoul is an example of how trafficked spaces can be returned to nature and pedestrians. Started by the then-Mayor, Lee Myung-bak, in 2003, the project removed a major highway and engineering to restore water to the nearly dry river.
13. Medellin River Project, Medellin, Colombia
Winning proposal video from Latitud
The rebirth of Medellin continues with another spectacular project to restore its main river, currently a thin, polluted channel lined in concrete and surrounded by train lines and highways. Local architect Latitud Taller de Ciudad y Arquitectura recently won the competition for the city to create a park extend 44km centred on the water. The Medellin River, which cuts through the heart of the city, will be now become a newly cleaned centrepiece for the new park that aims revitalise nature and provide long pedestrian walkways and bicycle lanes.
Are there any natural assets in your city could revitalised? Let us know in the comments below.