As technology and infrastructure improved, people forgot about the rivers flowing in their cities. Lately, 10 cities have been reconnecting with their rivers.
Since the industrial revolution cities have been designed to take over nature, but now planners are pushing to reintegrate nature into the urban landscape. Rivers are one part of this movement, with some cities simply trying to increase the quality of life in the surrounding areas and others even trying to take it to a new level by thinking of a resilient relationship between the city and the river, to fight the impact of climate change.
Here are 10 cities that found a way to reintroduce nature back into the heart of the city by reinventing the relationship to their rivers.
1. Seoul, South Korea
Before becoming a major public gathering place for the people of Seoul in 2005, the Cheongycheon River was a highly polluted covered wastewater canal surrounded by elevated and at grade infrastructure dividing the city. The redevelopment of over 11 km of the river canal and the destruction of the surrounding infrastructure has not only allowed rediscovering the qualities of the river but also reinvented the way people relate to it.
2. Ljubljana, Slovenia
Realizing the risk of urban deprivation due to the low quality and inaccessibility to the river, the city council decided to invest 20 million euros in the redevelopment of a central portion of Ljubljanica River and recreate its forgotten benefits on the city’s quality of life. The result is a revived city center, additional public spaces by the river and reversing the tendency of urban sprawl evoked by the undermining of the natural qualities the river brings to the city.
3. Madrid, Spain
The project cost skyrocketed at 280 million euros to bury the highway and create a stretch of public spaces, parks and bridges to give a new face to the river and recreate the link with the city. It has successfully proven to have increased the quality of life in all surrounding neighborhoods and become a major attraction public space for everyone in Madrid.
4. Paris, France
The initiative is called Paris plages and consists of closing sections of the lanes running along the river and transforms them into vital public spaces for a month. The success of this annually reoccurring project, started in 2001, has pushed through the opposition and in 2012 the city closed large parts of the banks dedicated to cars and transformed them into permanent public spaces that are changing the relationship of Parisians to their river and increasing the value this UNESCO world heritage site.
5. Qinhuangdao City, Hebei Province, China
In the case of this project, the river banks weren’t transformed from the industrial history but rather saved from the fast-growing urban development and given a new life with very little intervention. The Red ribbon park creation came just on time to handle the growing need for public space and the encroaching urban development.
Before its transformation, it was a rich natural environment which was inaccessible and too dangerous to be used for recreation activities. It was taken over as a trash dump by the adjacent beach town and insecure due to the shantytown spread. The major design element – the red ribbon – runs through the whole park. It was conceived to integrate lighting, seating and boardwalks as the design team was aiming at preserving the natural habitats while at the same time create opportunities for recreational activities.
Since its completion in 2008 the surroundings of the park have urbanized and the population has higher demands for the maintenance of quality of the natural environment. The Red Ribbon Park responds to both the demands of nature and the public giving a place for them to interact safely.
6. Lyon, France
Rhone River’s history is similar to Bordeaux’s Garonne River, ruled by the automobile and port industry in the past. In 2003, the city council launched a competition searching to create a place along the river that brings people closer to nature and relate to the river while being a meeting place offering a variety of activities. In situ Architectes Paysagistes developed the winning proposal for the redevelopment of 5 km of parking spaces and high-speed lanes into a riverfront landscape integrating a variety of activities.
During the design process, major input was taken from the community to ensure that the final result responds to all needs of the city. Now it offers fishing points, bike rentals, relaxation points, public spaces, and a major element – the steps terrace at the Guilloètire bridge as the entrance to the old city center.
Parking and cars are banned from site allowing only cycling and walking as the stretch is also a part of the European cycle path running from Geneva Lake to the Mediterranean coast. The project was completed in 2007 and immediately became a preferred place for Lyon’s inhabitants linking the city to the river and creating a new relationship with the Rhone.
7. Bordeaux, France
As many of the listed cities, Bordeaux’s Garonne river banks were previously devoted to industry. On the left riverbank of the Garonne River in the 1700s, the “Port de la Lune” was located together with a stretch of 4.5 km of adjacent industry along the river right next to the city center. At the beginning of the 20th century, industrial activities were abandoned and taken over by parking spots.
By the year 2005 these ex-industrial areas had no sense of space or meaning. That is when the city saw the potential of transforming it into a vital public space to invite the river back to the city and the people back to the river. The core of the project was the creation of a tramway in order to leave more space for pedestrians along the river. Once that was achieved the Major of Bordeaux wanted to create a connection from the river to the adjacent neighborhoods and the opposite banks of the river.
He chose the proposals of Michel Courajoud, whose aim was to keep the sense of port in a new urban reality achieved by preserving the elements of the old port into the design. With the beginning of the clearance of the area for the construction works, people instantly started reaching to the river as “they felt naturally drawn to water” says Courajoud. The most famous feature of the project is the “water mirror” which is the largest reflecting pool in the world. Completed in 2009 these new public spaces have increased the quality of life and provided a completely new urban experience – one that is close to the river.
8. Moscow, Russia
In the search for better quality of life, Moscow starts following the example of other cities rediscovering the added value of the river as part of city’s public spaces. The first step towards reintroducing the river as a public space was taken with a 1 km long transformation. The stretch of parking and traffic lanes were substituted by a pedestrian friendly riverside boardwalk with inviting urban furniture, an alley of painters, fountains, an outdoor performance stage, and activities designed for each season.
The next step towards bringing Moscow’s life to the river has been taken with the winner project in an international competition in 2015. Project Meganom consortium proposed a program for the regeneration of the whole river in Greater Moscow in order to create the green backbone for the future of the capital. The project consists of creating public spaces along the river, developing tourism and water transportation through the location of ports linking to the neighborhoods.
The project to transform the Kallang river park emerged from the necessity to find larger flood capacity of the canalized Kallang River but also from the initiative of the city to enrich the drainage functions of the canals. The project is part of “ABC water” – coming from Active, Beautiful, Clean waters aiming to create vibrant community gathering spaces accommodating the drainage functions of the river at the same time.
The 2.7 km long canal was removed to leave space for the naturally meandering river allowing space for its flood capacity to be naturally accommodated while providing access to the river during all of its level changes. From the canal’s destruction, a lookout hill was built to serve as a viewpoint to the newly invited nature. The result is a complete makeover of the way people can relate to the water. It bonded the previously separated communities through the numerous activities the park provides today.
10. New York, USA
The reason for New York’s reinvention of the relationship with the Hudson River estuary isn’t only the need for public spaces in proximity to the water but also the climate change effects that were severely felt during Hurricane Sandy. BIG’s design team won the 2014 international competition in search of a resilient solution to protect New York from the rising risks of floods due to climate change. Their proposal is an amazing combination of the projects mentioned above but with an upgrade – flood protection. Their solution incorporates a 12 km long “social infrastructure” to create a space for activities and public spaces close to the river which doubles as a flood protection wall for future disasters.
The U ribbon wraps Manhattan in a series of linked landscaped interventions acting as a natural absorbent of eventual high waters while the rest of the time providing a completely new experience surrounded by nature and water a step away from the dense skyscraper reality of Manhattan. If the city finds the budget to build this innovative and multifunctional flood protection it might not only resolve the problem with sea level rise but also provide a new approach on how to reinvent the way our cities interact with their rivers for years to come.
These cities are just a few examples of a new paradigm revealing diverse approaches to how cities should interact with their rivers. They clearly show the need to integrate rivers carefully into their future vision in order to provide the necessary public spaces that are closer to nature than our current urban reality.
Looking for creative solutions to reinvent the functions of the rivers, naturalize them or give them the necessary space and value isn’t making a step backward, but rather a step towards a sustainable and resilient future.