Chicago Leads Global Conversation Around Urban Waterways

Categories: China News,Gothenburg News,Lahore News,Mexico City News,Milan News,News,Paris News



Chicago is continuing to lead the global conversation around the use of waterways in urban centers.

On March 12 and 13, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo convened 17 mayors spanning five continents, 11 countries and who represent 44 million people for the Urban Waterways Forum in Chicago. The event, co-hosted by World Business Chicago and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, was designed to foster an international conversation about the future of urban waterways.

The mayors of Chicago’s sister cities of Gothenburg, Sweden; Lahore, Pakistan; Milan, Italy; Mexico City, Mexico; Paris, France; and Shenyang, China attended the forum. Below, learn about the innovative ways these cities are utilizing their waterways.

Chicago, Illinois: Chicago Riverwalk


The Vision – The City of Chicago has been working on the development plan for the Chicago Riverwalk since the 1990’s. The goal of embracing the river as a recreational amenity seemed impossible years ago given the river’s high levels of pollution. But today that vision has become a reality. Recent improvements in river water quality and the increased intensity of public recreational use signal growing life along the river, demanding new connections to the water’s edge.

In 2012, a team of architects and engineers was tasked with providing a continuous walkway and recreational amenity connecting the lakefront to the confluence of the river in the heart of downtown. As a new connected path system, the Chicago Riverwalk provides both continuity and variety for a park visitor. The distinct programs and forms of space—including plazas, an open air river theatre, jetties, and a boardwalk—allow for diverse experiences on the river ranging from dining opportunities to expansive public event programming to new amenities for human-powered watercraft. The City has incorporated a mix of recreational, cultural, entertainment, food and beverage and retail facilities on the Riverwalk to create a vibrant area enjoyed by residents, tourists, and visitors alike. Recently, the City issued a new opportunity for vendors to propose amenities that will continue to activate and draw visitors to the Riverwalk.

Timeline– 1990’s-Present

Funding – The City obtained $98 million for design engineering and construction from the U.S. Department of Transportation through the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA). TIFIA provides credit assistance for qualified infrastructure projects, and is designed to fill market gaps and leverage other investment by providing capital. It is intended only for projects of regional or national significance.

Earlier phases of work along the Riverwalk, including the construction of the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial which opened in 2005, were funded with additional federal appropriations.

Consistent with the City’s public-private partnership initiatives, the City will also pursue sponsorship opportunities for the ongoing maintenance and operations of the new Riverwalk facilities.

Benefits – The Riverwalk project has been pursued as a strategy to drive new recreational activities for city residents as well as a tool for driving economic development. The economic activity goals of the project are felt at an immediate level as existing nearby businesses benefit from increased usage of the Riverwalk and as new bars and restaurants are drawn to the Riverwalk. At a larger level, improvements along the Riverwalk have been important parts of the recruitment effort to get high profile corporate tenants to move into office space along the Riverwalk, providing an economic stimulus to the downtown economy as well as to city-wide and regional economy as a whole.

Strategy and Engagement – The Chicago Department of Transportation has been working on the Chicago Riverwalk since East-West Wacker Drive reconstruction began in the 1990s. The roadway was reconfigured to accommodate the expansion of the Riverwalk to promote a pedestrian walkway and activate the space as a public amenity. The East-West Wacker Project included utility build-outs for the future Riverwalk project for the entire length from Michigan to Lake Street

The Riverwalk plans being realized today reflect the build-out limits and general design of the entire Riverwalk project which was agreed upon through a public development process in 1999. That comprehensive design work took place with the cooperation of the United States Coast Guard and Army Corps of Engineers and other waterway stakeholders – community groups, commercial operators and the recreational users of the river.

Takeaway Message from City Leaders – The Riverwalk represents a significant investment in making the Chicago River the City’s next recreational frontier. This is part of the City’s efforts to ensure that residents across the city have access to recreational opportunities. It is part of a larger strategic plan to identify concrete ways to invest in riverfront areas across the city that strengthen and connect neighborhoods and improve the quality of life of all Chicagoans.

Gothenburg, Sweden: Frihamnen District of RiverCity Gothenburg


The Vision – For almost 400 years Gothenburg has looked outwards toward the sea and the world beyond. International contacts, outside influences and people from different cultures have always been of benefit to Gothenburg, and still are today. Diversity is Gothenburg’s most important asset.

Like many cities, the trading port of Gothenburg has relocated out of the city center. The former port area presents a valuable opportunity for redevelopment and expansion of the city center and its surrounding urban core. With the development of RiverCity Gothenburg the city center will double in size. The city of Gothenburg is committed to creating an inclusive, green and dynamic inner city open to the world; an enhanced sustainable inner-city emerging along both sides of the river. The Frihamnen District, a former port area that today is only partly used, is one of RiverCity Gothenburg’s most important components, unifying and healing the center of Gothenburg. The goal is to create a variety of residential options and meeting places, based on innovative solutions and with a focus on sustainability. With a new bridge over the river as well as shuttles to and from the city center, good public transport options, and an extensive network for biking and for walking, Frihamnen will link the city together. The aim of our socially sustainable city development is set high: to make the city whole.

Timeline – Present – 2035 and beyond

Funding – The development of Frihamnen will be financed by mixed sources; national, regional and municipal public funds as well by private property investors. With respect to investments in infrastructure for sustainable transport options, the city is working with the regional and national authorities in negotiated value-driven agreements. For investments in measures that promote the transition to low carbon and climate resilient growth, in line with the City’s Environmental Programme and Climate Strategy, the City of Gothenburg has used the Green Bonds concept.

Benefits – There will be 1,000 homes and the same number of jobs created in Frihamnen by the city’s 400th anniversary in 2021. It will be a city district where it is easy to live sustainably – socially, environmentally and financially, thus contributing to the city´s goals for sustainable urban life. The plan is that by 2040 Frihamnen will be a densely built, green area, near the water with a mixture of workplaces, services, housing, parks and frequent public transport. There will be 15,000 people living and working there. There is a plan to have about 1,000 temporary homes in place as soon as 2018 to quickly satisfy the demand for accommodation in the city. These are being built for students, new arrivals and companies.

The city´s focus is to use Frihamnen as a test-bed for new ways of planning and innovative solutions to challenges in urban development – learning new solutions while developing a new area in the city. The city is including pilot projects exploring how to tackle the challenge of rising water levels and heavy rainfall while retaining the area’s appearance, new concepts for modern mobility and goods transport, new socially mixed housing possibilities, as well as new solutions for engagement and dialogue.

Strategy and Engagement – The expansion of RiverCity Gothenburg affects the whole city and it is important that everyone, regardless of where we live in the city, is given the opportunity to be involved in the planning and development of the area. RiverCity Gothenburg will capitalize on local knowledge and experience and include the experience and knowledge of its citizens in the planning and development. The city of Gothenburg has invited the people to take part in the development of the Frihamnen district, both in the planning processes but also, in on-site workshops.

People are invited to the area as a test-bed where new activities and desired features can be conceptualized and tested. This is a new approach to urban development, with people allowed to gradually take over the area and make it their own. The test-version of the future city park is already in use today and offers a public outdoor pool, saunas and schools for swimming and sailing. In addition to real-life testing of elements and concepts for the new city, the city of Gothenburg also uses smart technologies and augmented and virtual reality as a tool for dialogue in the development of the area.

Takeaway Message from City Leaders – To achieve the vision of developing attractive, robust, and in all aspects sustainable cities, the challenge is to form planning processes that are truly inclusive and that comprehend all aspects of the city life. Knowledge from many disciplines and practitioners need to be included. Smart technologies and visualization are facilitators and the simple act of talking over a cup of coffee a necessity.

Lahore, Pakistan: The Canal and the Ravi River


Background – Lahore has two significant urban waterways, a canal that runs through the eastern side of the city and the much larger Ravi River which skirts the western edges of the city. Both waterways suffer from pollution concerns. The canal forms the center of a linear park that represents a significant green space amenity for the city. It is flanked by a major vehicle thoroughfare on both sides. The Ravi River is a substantial waterway surrounded largely, although not exclusively, by undeveloped agricultural land. Lahore’s main ring road separates much of the city from the river. Officials have proposed slating certain sections of the riverbank as a potential site for a large-scale urban development project known as the Ravi River Development Zone.

Mexico City, Mexico: Parque Lineal La Viga


The Vision – Mexico City is facing serious water challenges in the broadest possible sense. During the rainy season, certain parts of the City suffer flash floods that cause serious damage. During the dry season, there is a serious lack of water that creates acute public health consequences due to heat stress and drinking water shortages. This fluctuation also causes land subsidence, making Mexico City one of the world’s fastest sinking cities.

The Parque Lineal La Viga, located on the site of a former canal, is an innovative project in eastern Mexico City—typically a less favored part of the city—that combines rainwater storage strategies with the immediate enjoyment of enhanced public space. By collecting the rainwater that falls in the park’s paved area, the project combines water storage strategies with high quality public space, in turn creating a new relationship between urban residents and their water supply. It is an innovative project that recognizes the relevance of the role that public space has as a strategic layer in the City. The City is hoping to demonstrate how public space can be both beautiful and active while functioning as water management infrastructure, tackling two issues at once.

Timeline – 2015-Present

Funding – The project has been publicly financed using local municipal as well as federal resources. The Public Space Authority of Mexico City is housed under the Ministry of Urban Development and Housing, and is therefore entitled to request project funds from the City’s Ministry of Finance to carry out high quality public space projects.

The Parque Lineal La Viga was the first Public Space Authority project of this magnitude built outside the wealthy neighborhoods of Mexico City. The public funding investment was justified through the impacts that the project is going to have in bringing enhanced public space to inhabitants of the eastern part of Mexico City.

Benefits – The project will benefit up to 30,000 people that are able to reach the park by foot, located in a part of the city that lacks major green space amenities. The park is reachable by up to 4.6 million people who are within a 30-minute public transportation radius. The project renovates nearly 10,000 square meters of existing green space and adds 6,700 square meters of new green space, contributing to efforts to raise per capita green space in the district according to World Health Organization recommended guidelines.

The project can be situated in a larger conversation about local adaptation strategies to climate change as the rainwater storage components of the park’s design directly contribute to efforts to cope with water scarcity. Similarly, the tree cover and reflecting pools incorporated into the space are designed to help cool local temperatures amidst rising incidences of urban heat waves.
Apart from the environmental benefits of the project, the park is expected to spur increased economic activity in the surrounding neighborhood as the space has the potential to attract visitors from across the city.

Strategy and Engagement – The project was developed according to a methodology that took into account the knowledge and concerns of the surrounding communities. A special team was assembled to carry out citizen engagement efforts, which drew responses and input from nearly 500 neighbors.

The project was envisioned as a way to bring high quality recreational spaces to less privileged communities, and it considered multiple diverse audiences in terms of age and gender as its target population. Throughout the different stages of construction the community has appreciated many benefits of the project, but there have also been instances in which the project had to be adapted to the respond to community concerns.

CAF, a Latin America development dank, and the Dutch Embassy in Mexico have been strategic spokespersons and partners of this initiative. CAF engaged the Public Space Authority through technical assistance cooperation in which a set of Dutch specialists helped the City explore applicable design strategies for public spaces that could also support water management efforts. The findings of the technical assistance exploration have been made publicly available in a digital report.

Takeaway Message from City Leaders – Efforts to develop new and innovative public spaces, through collaboration and perseverance, will be key to achieving the reality of a more water-sensitive Mexico City.

Milan, Italy: Reopening the Navigli Canals


The Vision – Milan’s history is deep-rooted in its water system. In the 15th century, Leonardo da Vinci engineered and built a system of canals – the Navigli – that were pivotal in bringing food and goods as well as transporting materials for the development of the city – notably for the building of its renowned Cathedral. Over the past century, the river has been supplanted as a primary system of transportation by railways and cars. This was one of the reasons why some parts of the canals inside the city were covered which has caused the city to lose key elements of its landscape as well as flooding concerns.

The redevelopment of the City’s dock – La Darsena – in advance of the 2015 Expo Milano was a first step in restoring the city’s historical waterways. The project restored the city’s harbour and adjacent spaces, with an investment of some $20 million. The project consisted of renovating the banks of the Darsena, adding new pedestrian areas and a new waterfront launch for tourist boat trips. New tree-lined walks were created on both sides of the dock, while on the western edge of the basin a garden has been developed that leads down to the water’s edge. The regeneration of the Darsena and its popularity constitutes the first step towards the long term project of reopening the Navigli canals. A feasibility study has been planned for the purposes of exploring how to Milan a “water city” again, as it was in the past.

Timeline – 2008-Present

Funding – The Navigli project is still in the feasibility assessment stage, and therefore major funding has not yet been secured.

Benefits – In environmental terms the project will help put in place mitigation measures to protect the Northern part of the city form recurrent flooding it suffers from as a result of bottlenecked water flow in the covered canal systems. Opening the canals would allow for a rebalancing of the canal basins and water flow. More broadly, the project would help to reduce vehicle traffic in the city and reduce pollution.

At a social and cultural level, there has been a loss of collective consciousness by Milanese residents with respect to the value of water as an asset to the city. But this can be undone by a project like the reopening of the Navigli canals which would change lifestyles and revamp the attractiveness of the city. An increased environmental awareness among Milan’s residents has reduced the number of privately-owned cars in the city center to the benefit of car-sharing schemes and consequently to the reduction of urban traffic, which opens the door for serious consideration of a project like re-opening the Navigli canals.

Strategy and Engagement – Implementing and re-opening the Navigli canals’ project implies some degree of citizen involvement due to the huge investment (potentially $530 million) and the inevitable serious inconveniences of long and invasive public works in the city. For those reasons, after the feasibility study, the City will launch a public consultation process and a referendum in order to assess the sentiment of the city towards such an ambitious project.

Takeaway Message from City Leaders – The regeneration of the city dock—Darsena—and the positive reception that project received from the public constituted the first step toward restoring the city’s historic connection to the water. The project of re-opening of the Navigli canals can achieve even more if a plan can be created, shared with, and agreed upon by city residents. Milan can be made a “water city” once again.

Paris, France: Paris Riverbanks Project


The Vision – The original vision of the Paris Riverbanks Project was to offer a breathing space to the city and to reduce vehicle traffic by creating a continuous walkway and cycling path along the River Seine to replace the busy roadways that had lined the river previously. The project was also envisioned as a way to drive new economic opportunities and activities along the river by “recovering” the site and reconnecting Parisians with the river. A final goal of the project was to reinforce the ecological continuity of the river.

The project has taken shape along 10 hectares of the riverbank, connecting the Bastille Fortress to the Eiffel Tower. The park is designed to provide a friendly recreational, cultural, and sporting promenade that offers a better place to live and a breath of fresh air to city residents in a context of climate adaptation.

Timeline – 2009-Present

Funding – The project has been principally financed by the City of Paris, for an original estimated phase 1 cost of $42 million, but which ultimately came in under budget at a cost of $34 million. The budget for the second phase of the project is set at $8.5 million. In addition to city funds, the project has also been the recipient of state subsidies allocated to different parts of the project corresponding to water management, safety, greening, and traffic reduction goals. Private partners financed some project activities on the left river bank from 2013 to 2015. The city has incrementally financed the project at rate of $5.3 million a year.

Benefits – The impact of the initial left river bank project has been very positive with 6 million people using the newly created park space since 2013. The project has also contributed to a 15% reduction of NO2 air contamination along the banks of the river along with reduced noise pollution. These project benefits are expected to continue to accrue as the project expands to the right bank of the river.

More broadly, the project has corrected a situation in which a heavily travelled expressway carrying thousands of vehicles a day disconnected the larger city from the river. The negative effects generated by the expressway included air pollution, noise pollution, traffic congestion, and the ongoing degradation of the ‘Banks of the Seine’, an officially designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Strategy and Engagement – The project built on the annual tradition of closing of the banks of the Seine to vehicle traffic for a month each year, a practice that grew to become a beloved Parisian tradition. Public polling results have consistently indicated that the project is supported by a large number of the city’s residents. Nevertheless, the City organized a series of town hall meetings in the greater Paris metropolitan area to grasp the new uses and activities that people wanted to encounter along the riverbanks. These public engagement efforts were also an opportunity to explain the decision to ban cars on the right river bank expressway. Throughout the project, we continued to organize town hall meetings in the format of public enquiries. To learn from the experiences of other successful projects, the City of Paris studied similar project in Seoul, Singapore, Hamburg, and Bordeaux. A multidisciplinary team of architecture, sports, culture, and landscape experts was charged with laying out a new design for activities along the bank. The project was directed by the city’s urban design team, with the input and coordination of State directorates for Traffic, Cultural Heritage, and Water Management. The international body UNESCO was also involved in the project coordinating process given the banks’ status as a World Heritage Site.

Takeaway Message from City Leaders – The City of Paris would like for the 10 hectares park on the Seine River banks to become, for Parisians and tourists alike, a place to breathe and enjoy numerous activities in the center of Paris.

Shenyang, China: Shenyang New World Centre


Background – Shenyang is one of China’s fastest growing cities. A cornerstone of the city’s rapid urban development is the Shenyang New World Centre, a mixed-use district covering more than a million acres, across the Hunhe River from Shenyang’s existing city center. The project will result in a mixed-used area that is home to retail, residential, commercial, and hotel space, in addition to a new convention center. It has been envisioned as a “miniature city” within a city. The district is serviced by new public transportation options, including a metro stop.