Rediscovering and Reimagining Urban Rivers

Rivers have and continue to play fundamental roles in the selection of a site for the emergence of a new city and the development of the urban fabric after a city is established. During an accelerated era of industrialization and urbanization starting in the mid-eighteenth century and continuing into today, many cities brought rivers under the will of planners and engineers, bent and reshaped to better serve the cityscape and its citizens. However, after decades of deterioration or neglect, urban waterways across the world are being rediscovered, repurposed, and restored.

In a recently released volume of Projections, authors from a variety of disciplines and fields explore how urban rivers are transitioning from polluted blights into public amenities and valuable urban resources. Projections is the journal of the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning (DUSP). It is published by MIT Press and focuses on showcasing innovative research in the field of planning. Each volume of Projections is devoted to a different topic of interest to planning scholars, students, and professionals. The editors of the newest volume, New Uses for Old Rivers: Rediscovering Urban Waterways, are Andrea Beck and Isadora Araujo Cruxên, both doctoral candidates at DUSP.

“The abstracts we received in response to the call for papers reflect the relevance and dynamic nature of urban river restoration efforts around the world,” said Beck. “We had submissions from a diverse cohort of countries and from academics and practitioners alike. The diversity of the abstracts made it particularly challenging to narrow down to a small number of papers for inclusion in the volume. We hope that the final selection captures some of the geographical and experiential richness that we saw in the early round of submissions.”

Articles in the volume include:

Metropolis on the Water, where Yonah Freemark (DUSP) explores the political economy of riverfront redevelopment along the Seine river in Paris, France.

From Boats to Bikes? is Leonie Tuitjer’s (University of Hannover) examination of collective action and grassroots contestation with power brokers over visions for riverfront redevelopment in Bangkok, Thailand.

In Infrastructural Instabilities of Urban River Restoration, Oren Shlomo (IDC Herzliya and the Open University of Israel) and Nathan Marom (IDC Herzliya) highlight the process of river restoration projects with a particular focus on instabilities, both political and temporal, impacting restoration efforts in Tel Aviv, Israel.

A River Runs Through It, where Judith Otto (Framingham State University) approaches river restoration efforts from the scale of small cities. Specifically, Otto deploys a political economy lens to the role rivers play in local economic development and urban regeneration in post-industrial small towns in the United States.

“Our aim with this edition was to highlight that efforts to revitalize urban rivers and waterfronts are not simply design or engineering endeavors, but in fact entail the political reimagining and reworking of the city itself,” said Cruxên. “These initiatives raise questions about our relationship to water in a time of changing climate patterns and increasing environmental vulnerability. They also demand that we critically inquire into the social, economic, and political dynamics at play in planning efforts to transform urban landscapes and waterscapes.”

Read the full copy of New Uses for Old Rivers: Rediscovering Urban Waterways, here.