Make American Green Again

From sea to shining sea: six projects restoring the U.S.’s ecosystems

Environment National Other Urbanism
From sea to shining sea: Six projects and proposals to restore the country's ecosystems (Courtesy MLA)
From sea to shining sea: Six projects and proposals to restore the country's ecosystems (Courtesy MLA)

As the threat of climate change and sea level rise becomes more pressing, projects looking to save our country’s ecosystems have never been more important. The relationship between water and a city’s landscape has become especially critical for all urbanists (see our water issue, which explored this in-depth). The six projects and proposals listed below aim to repair America’s ecosystems and bring us closer to the environment.

(Courtesy SCAPE Landscape Architecture)

Unearthing a unique geological ecosystem back to Lexington, Kentucky 

After winning a competition to revitalize downtown Lexington, New York–based SCAPE Landscape Architecture decided to celebrate the long-buried limestone landscape that forms the identity of Lexingtonians. With $14.1 million in funding from the U.S Department of Transportation, the project will carve pedestrian and bike paths to create new green spaces and link regional trails. There will also be new freshwater pools—“karst windows,” in reference to naturally occurring formations—to bring Lexington’s water into the open. “Here it’s all about finding a unique identity framed around a cultural and geological history of a place,” said Gena Wirth, SCAPE design principal. “What’s replicable is the multipurpose infrastructure that unites the city, its story, and its systems.”



Ross Barney Architects envisions using the out-of-the-way nature of the abandoned channel as a way of giving the public an escape from Chicago. (Courtesy Ross Barney Architects)

Transforming the Chicago River

A clean Chicago River: a dream too good to be true? Ross Barney Architects disagrees, and may well be bringing that vision to life. The firm has dedicated extensive studies on how to transform the South Side neighborhood’s currently polluted river into an urban natural space with amenities that residents need. They even envision a water-taxi stop at the site to provide a direct connection to downtown.

New L.A. River restoration renderings revealed by Mia Lehrer, AECOM, Gruen Associates and others. (Courtesy MLA)

Bringing the people back to L.A River 

A several-mile segment of the Los Angeles River that runs through Downtown Los Angeles could be getting a makeover soon, with preliminary proposals from AECOM, Gruen Associates, Chee Salette, WSP,  CH2M, Mia Lehrer + Associates (MLA), and Tetra Tech. Each of the seven teams was given a specific segment of the river to reconfigure while keeping in mind future planning approaches, like the potential extension of the Red Line subway to the Arts District. The proposals focus on increasing pedestrian connectivity to the river while also “embracing bold, world-class design,” according to a project website.

Studio Gang urban waterfronts

Studio Gang’s plan for the Milwaukee Harbor connects the downtown with the lake and transforms the harbor into a multi-use utility and recreational space. (Courtesy Studio Gang Architects)

Rethinking urban waterfronts with Studio Gang’s research-based approach

Chicago-based Studio Gang Architects’ water ecology projects are programmatically ambitious, but are backed by the firm’s extensive research and collaborations with experts often outside of architecture. A study with Milwaukee-based Applied Ecological Services and Edgewater Resources presented a master plan for Milwaukee’s waterfront development. “We’re interested in the intersection between built and natural environments,” said Claire Cahan, design director at Studio Gang. “We seek to understand the natural, cultural, economic conditions far beyond a property line.”

The Willamette Falls project seeks to restore a collection of historic industrial structures that flank the waterfalls. (Courtesy Snøhetta)

Access to Willamette Falls restored

The Willamette Falls near Portland, Oregon, is the second-largest waterfall by volume in the United States and has been cut off from nearby downtown Oregon City for over a century. But Snøhetta’s latest proposal aims to restore public access by building a long, sinuous path through the site that culminates in a broad promenade with 360-degree-views. The pathway has also been designed to accommodate for cyclical and historic flood levels and is seismically resilient. Construction is expected to begin in June 2018.

Group unveils plans by SCAPE for verdant Gowanus Canal. Pictured here: Aerial view of the Gowanus Lowlands. (Courtesy Gowanus Canal Conservancy and SCAPE Landscape Architecture)

Cleaning up Gowanus Canal

Plans to transform the long-polluted, abandoned Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, New York, have been unveiled by non-profit Gowanus Canal Conservancy and SCAPE Landscape Architecture. The Gowanus Lowlands: A Blueprint for NYC’s Next Great Park project outlines a possible park along the waterway, which runs through Park Slope, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Red Hook, and Gowanus. Performance venues, cafes, and other attractions in between are included, as are mitigation basins, bioswales, and sponge gardens for filtration and wildlife habitation.

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