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.
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.
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.
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…