More ideas for the Eco-City Beautiful

I’ve been meaning to say something on some more water + city issues raised by mammoth a short time ago, but I haven’t gotten around to it.   Mammoth points us to another entrant in the design competition for Toronto’s Port Lands (following up on some of the discussion about McMillan Two).  The project, called River+City+Life, aims to re-imagine urban wetlands rather than simply recreate a faux natural setting.

The design team faced a complex challenge: to renaturalize the mouth of the Don River while simultaneously reengineering the flood plain and creating a new thriving edge to the city’s downtown. Working at the confluence of urban core and derelict waterfront, Stoss pursued an adaptive strategy based on the primacy of the river and its dynamics. Of particular significance is the project’s explicit emphasis on building resilience, which was to be achieved by recalibrating the mouth of the river and its floodplain as a new estuary — not a restored estuary, but a landscape transformed through the creation of a new river channel and “river spits” — sculpted landforms capable of withstanding changing lake levels and seasonal flooding, while also providing new spaces for recreation and housing.

River+City+Life - Site Rendering

River+City+Life - Site Rendering

By proposing new, integrated ecologies for the site, organized principally by the river and its innate properties, the Stoss plan “puts the river first.” This constitutes a complete reversal of a century and a half of straightening, channelizing and deepening the river for the economic benefit of the citizens of Toronto. Centered on renewal rather than restoration, the design strategy comprises adaptation to occasional flooding, mediation between native and alien species, and a thick layering of habitats and edges, both cultural and natural, seasonal and permanent. In this way River+City+Life weaves a resilient urban tapestry of public amenity, urban edge and ecological performance, conceiving the city as a hybrid cultural–natural space and setting in motion long-term evolutionary processes in which new ecologies would be encouraged not suppressed.

River+City+Life - Hydrologic Elements

River+City+Life - Hydrologic Elements

River+City+Life - Massing Study

River+City+Life - Massing Study

This is the kind of potential meshing of green infrastructure, site, and urbanism we should demand from McMillan Two.  Though this specific example raises some questions in my mind about public space, streetscapes, and other urban design elements – the overall approach of the city and its infrastructure as a kind of living machine is fascinating.

River+City+Life - Aerial

River+City+Life - Aerial

With this specific proposal, a few of those renderings and massing studies scare me from an urban design standpoint – with arcaded buildings suspended over streets and sidewalks – but it’s a tremendously interesting idea to play around with.

Speaking of water…

A book that I really ought to add I’ve added to the reading list is Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner.  It’s the story of the American West and the battle for water resources.

4 comments to More ideas for the Eco-City Beautiful

  • Interesting. I’d be curious to hear you explore further why massings “scare” you, and what this development is supposed to be like at ground level. At this distance it looks a lot like Corbusier’s “towers in parks,” and I assume that the greenspace is necessary for the needs of the river. If so, scary massings would seem unavoidable, but it would all depend on their conception of street and building face, no?

  • Alex Block

    Yes, I think you nailed my concern. I worry about the street because we don’t get any information about how the street functions in this plan. The park aspect is fine, and I think there are some great ideas of how to fit this green infrastructure into an urban context – I just want to see more.

    For what its worth, a key princle of this plan is that the architecture not be proscriptive. So, the idea of adaptability is there.

    I guess I just want to see a little more in terms of relating these ideas to urban landscapes that aren’t such blank canvasses.

  • [...] also raises the issue I noted with some of the proposed Eco City Beautiful infrastructure – how does one visually convey the vision of urban development around a core infrastructure [...]

  • [...] These bioretention areas should be a great example of the new kind of both urban and environmentally sustainable infrastructure can [...]

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