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Do Cities “Really” Need to be Connected to Their Rivers?

January 5, 2011Patrick NunnallyRiversComments Off on Do Cities “Really” Need to be Connected to Their Rivers?

It’s always fun to read the work of “against the grain” thinkers, but only when they are thoughtful and reflective, gently challenging some of our most closely-held assumptions. (I’m not talking about what passes for political commentary these days, which is just “against,” not “against the grain!”)

So I pulled this blog on St. Louis’ architecture and sense of place because the title and subject appealed to me.  The “sense of place” the writer picks up on is an often-neglected aspect of our river discussions.

But when you read the piece closely, you’ll see that he’s saying that Rome turned out just fine, despite walling itself off from the floods of the Tiber centuries ago.  Now, he reports, the riverbank is a “no man’s land” populated only by “vagrants,” in other words, the kind of “marginal” place that has such double-edged richness in urban life.

Yes…but cities across the developed world are reconnecting to their rivers, making these “marginalized” corridors central to the city image and future again.  If we can grant that the revitalization of an urban riverfront is not necessary to a city’s thriving future, are there times and places where it is more (or less) important?

Urbanists, what do you think?  Are there cases where “reconnecting to the river” doesn’t really matter that much?

And note, please:  that the author in question didn’t say that St. Louis’ reconnection to the Mississippi is unimportant, only that it is not sufficient to restore health to the city.  Exactly right:  the connection between a healthy city and a healthy urban riverfront is poorly understood and under-studied.

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