You’ve probably heard about famous river rejuvenations – London’s Thames, once so smelly it disrupted parliament, or Seoul’s Cheonggyecheon Stream, now a popular public attraction after the removal of an elevated highway, or even our own Melaka’s festive riverfront.
But there are many lesser-known city river revival projects to consider as we anticipate the extension of KL’s own River of Life project.
Oklahoma City, USA
It’s hard to imagine a city centre where you can go whitewater rafting, but Oklahoma City has done it!
The city’s relationship with its river was not always so rosy. In the 1920s and ‘30s, what was then known as the North Canadian River was re-channelled to skirt downtown Oklahoma City to avoid flooding.
Unfortunately, the result was an unsightly marshland that locals joked about mowing rather than rowing.
In 2004, a US$53-million rejuvenation project created the seven-mile, dam-controlled body of water, now named the Oklahoma River.
A one-cent sales tax initiative was subsequently instated to fund continual improvements to the river and the surrounding Boathouse District, with its stylish glass-and-steel boathouses.
The whole area includes walkways, performance spaces, shopping, and a diversity of public spaces and riverine activities, including kayaking and rafting along the 11-acre RiverSports Rapids.
Zhongshan Shipyard Park, Guangdong, China
The international award-winning Zhongshan Shipyard Park covers 27 acres on what was once an abandoned shipyard from the 1950s.
Memorialisation and reuse lie at the heart of this inspired development, which mixes historical context with ecological concerns.
Natural habitats and original vegetation, such as majestic banyan trees, are preserved, while machines, docks, and other industrial structures have been recycled in functional, educational and aesthetic ways.
To deal with fluctuating water levels caused by the lake connected through the Qijiang River to the sea, a network of bridges was constructed at various elevations, and integrated with terraced planting beds to accommodate native weeds from the salt march, creating a refreshing whiff of the ocean.
Now a beloved spot, locals wander through the site via a central axis walkway that dissects the park, meandering past a series of buildings and structures, with landscaped green refuges featuring only native plants, hedges and trees throughout.
Once infamous as the base of drug lord Pablo Escobar and dubbed the ‘most violent city in the world’, Medellin today is a city reborn.
An urbanism superstar, the metropolis attracts accolades and acolytes for its innovative schemes focused on social integration, like library-parks, cable cars and outdoor escalators, credited with helping to turnaround depressed and crime-ridden neighbourhoods.
The next urban renewal chapter is currently unfolding with the daring Parks of the Medellín River (Parques del Río Medellín) project.
Local firm Latitude’s concept for a “botanical park that recovers connections to water systems through a revitalized biotic metropolitan corridor” wowed the judges in the international master plan competition.
The audacious masterplan involves relocating the city’s central highway artery, which had served to split neighbourhoods apart, and to reconnect city denizens through a complete transformation of the river and its surroundings into 20 kilometres of riverbank public space with green tendrils that spread throughout the valley.
More than US$1.4 billion and 15 years will be needed to complete this ambitious project, and the first step, currently in progress, is the most challenging: to bury a 392m stretch of highway along the river and build a park on top.