Lessons in Equitable Urban River Restoration

As more cities "daylight" the rivers and waterways formerly interred underground to culverts and stormdrains, a process for ensuring community leadership and equitable outcomes is also coming to light.

1 minute read

March 6, 2020, 8:00 AM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

Cheonggyecheon Daylighting

brian kusler / Flickr

Jenny Hoffner writes on the potential for cities to change the fate of urban watersheds:

Urban rivers that have been forgotten or buried underground for years often wind their way through neighborhoods that also have been forgotten, marginalized, or intentionally burdened with infrastructure like landfills, power plants, and sports arenas that damage the quality of life for residents.

For example, in and around the busiest airport in the world, Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International, the Flint River can be found running through pipes under parking lots and runways. Many of the neighborhoods that once stood there, and the people who once called those neighborhoods home, are long gone, bought out in favor of airport expansion.

Until we can address both the marginalization of rivers and of their neighbors, it will be impossible to create thriving communities with healthy rivers and clean water for all. Healthy rivers and communities share similar attributes, including diversity, interconnection, productivity, and resilience. And the health and vitality of both are intertwined.

There is a remedy for the situation, however, which Hoffner terms "equitable urban river restoration," or the process of rediscovering and connecting to urban rivers in a community-led process. Numerous case studies already exist, according to Hoffner, who details examples from New York City and Atlanta and lays out a four-step process for success.

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