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River City: Waterfront Design for Civic Life

Across the US and around the world, cities are reclaiming rivers as sites of cultural, environmental, and economic vitality. At the same time, urgent challenges of climate change and demands for social equity have focused intense interest on the urban edge. While revived waterfronts offer vast canvases for new development and recreation, converging ecological and economic forces have spurred strong debate about the river’s role in civic life.

To explore how cities are reengaging the urban experience through waterfronts, we hosted the exhibition and program series, River City: Waterfront Design for Civic Life.

The initiative posed such critical questions as: How can innovative planning and design balance the need for working waterfronts while accommodating public open space, new housing, and ecological restoration?

How can riverfront infrastructure catalyze self-sustaining communities?

By spotlighting three sites — Brooklyn Bridge Park, Seoul’s Cheonggyecheon River, and the Mississippi River Delta — we investigated how innovative waterfront design can address the pressing cultural and ecological questions of our time.

Through overlapping topics on nature, culture, and infrastructure, River City served as a forum to bring landscape architects, architects, planners, designers, policy-makers, and urban advocates into conversation with the waterfront’s broad public constituencies to debate the future of the urban shore.

River City was made possible, in part, by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, and through public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. The Institute also gratefully acknowledged its Board of Trustees, the Van Alen Circle, and individual members and supporters.