Ecological Riverfront Design: Restoring Rivers, Connecting Communities

PAS Report 518/519

By Betsy Otto, Kathleen McCormick, Michael Leccese

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For years, cities and towns have been turning back to their rivers, transforming industrial and derelict land into new parks, residences, and commercial space. The trend appears to be continuing and perhaps even accelerating, with major planning and construction efforts underway in cities around the country. After years of abuse through hard use and neglect, rivers are now being seen as valuable economic and community assets.

Ecological Riverfront Design puts forth a new vision for the nation's urban riverfronts. It provides a set of planning and design principles that will allow communities to reclaim urban river edges in the most ecologically sound and economically viable manner possible. The report will guide planners, mayors, public works and environmental officials, river advocates, and the general public in their search for effective, ecological riverfront design. It covers key topics related to ecological health and human interaction with rivers and provides a set of essential strategies to help communities achieve more with their riverfront revitalization efforts.

Product Details

Page Count
Date Published
May 1, 2004
Adobe PDF

Table of Contents



1. A concise history of urban riverfront development
The history of a riverfront city • Early redevelopment efforts • What's driving urban riverfront development today • Summary

2. Urban river health
Urban river health in historical context • Components of a river ecosystem

3. Principles for ecologically sound riverfront design
Tailoring the plan to the riverfront corridor and its watershed • Overview of ecological principles • General principles: Ecological goals and economic development goals are mutually beneficial; Protect and restore natural river features and functions; Regenerate the riverfront as a human realm; Compromises are necessary to achieve multiple objectives; Make the process of planning and designing riverfronts broadly participatory.

Planning Principles: Demonstrate the characteristics of the city's unique relationship to the river; Know the river ecosystem and plan for a scale larger than the riverfront; Because rivers are dynamic, minimize new floodplain development; Provide for public access, connections, and recreational uses; Celebrate the river's environmental and cultural history.

Design Principles: Preserve natural river features and functions; Buffer sensitive natural areas; Restore riparian and in-stream habitats; Use nonstructural alternatives to manage water resources; Reduce hardscapes; Manage stormwater on site and use nonstructural approaches; Balance recreational and public access goals with river protection; Incorporate information about a river's natural resources and cultural history

4. The benefits of restoration and redevelopment
Financing riverfront renewal • The benefits of restoration and redevelopment; Improve water quality and reduce costs; Curb flood damage and lower the costs of flood control; Decrease stormwater management costs; Reduce sprawl and related infrastructure costs; Revitalize the downtown riverfront with housing and business opportunities; Provide jobs for residents in construction and commercial business; Offer recreational opportunities, open space, and park amenities; Raise property values and generate new tax revenues; Attract state and federal funding, volunteers, and broad financial support.

5. The Chicago River: a reversal of fortunes
A hard-working river • Yesterday's pipe dreams are today's reality • Planning for a better river • Projects and grassroots change on the river: Planning's unlikely dance partner • Woods, wetlands and a golf course • Restoration of the spirit: Fostering a culture that cares about the river • Funding for planning, projects and stewardship • Impact • Lessons from the restoration of the Chicago River

6. The Willamette River: A renaissance in the making
City snapshot • History of the Portland Riverfront • Portland's planning efforts on the Willamette • A new vision: River renaissance • Looking forward

Appendix A: More information on the river ecosystems
Appendix B: List of references
Appendix C: American Planning Association policy guide on water resources management