Floating in Public

Can the rivers, the historically seen as merely the feeder of the cores of cities due to transport and industry, become the new cultural, social and ecological centers of cities? Or could they even be the next great public spaces?

Bodies of water have often been the reason for human settlement. Their usage as transport made them ideal places for trade and therefore for the beginnings of urbanization. In time, as they become city centers and transport demands increased, they were often ideal passages to provide the new forms of necessary transport. These new forms of transport alienated the city centers from their historic riverfronts spatially. Currently, many are trying to redevelop lost waterfronts for people. Can this be taken a step further? Can the water itself be seen as a place for expansion? What opportunities are there in developing the water itself? What are the constraints and possibilities of developing ‘new’ space in or near historic city centers? What could and should be provided or added to the existing city?

Many contemporary waterfront plans focus on how the edge can be made friendlier for people and for nature. Ecology is a core principal in most projects. Is it appropriate to return urban waterfronts to a natural state? Is it really necessary? Is this actually the most sustainable step to be taken?

Many cities have begun to revitalize their waterfronts. The list is endless and world wide. What is more interesting is the more recent and often more small scale moves by cities to not merely improve the waterfront itself, but to add to the programming and design of the water’s surface. Whether it is floating pavilions in Sydney, floating pools in Berlin, floating play spaces in Copenhagen, or floating art galleries and pieces in New York the list of cities expanding to the waters surface is growing and growing. But what are the potentials when seen as a whole? Not merely a project at a time, but an entire plan for how to completely rethink a cities water surface?

Rotterdam is an ideal case study for just such a study [Amsterdam along the Ij works in a somewhat similar fashion]. The city exists because of the river, relies on the river for its economy, has cut itself off from the river in many cases – both by transport and by industrial developments, and is looking for possibilities to relink itself to the river [see Okra’s open space master plan]. But do these current studies and proposals go far enough to really create something special on the Maas?

A great potential of the Maas is the fact that it is currently in the center of the city [thanks to the move to create Rotterdam Zuid]. Could the Maas be Rotterdam’s next great public space? Could Manhattan on the Maas get its own central park? Or should the Maas serve as a place for development needs of the city? Perhaps all of the program that city dwellers usually must retreat to the city’s edge to find could be located now at its core? Or should it serve as the new transit corridor of the future? Linking all of the potential waterfront developments via high speed transit – from the sea to Germany?