Tag Archives: waterfront

Boston’s Greenway

On a recent trip to Boston – a city I once called home – I visited a series of linear parks collectively known as the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway. Left by the razing of a former raised highway, the public spaces thread through the downtown core, re-stitching together neighbourhoods and providing visual and pedestrian connections that had been severed over half a century ago.



Each segment within the Greenway has its own spatial vocabulary and character. Primary emphasis was placed on the public realm; the spaces are complete with promenades, plazas, landscaped gardens, recreational fields, sculptures, information pavilions, splash fountains and a carousel.

The Greenway is the most visible result of the 16-year project dubbed the Big Dig, one of the most ambitious feats of construction and urban design ever undertaken in a US city. For 50 years, the I-93, a rusting elevated six-lane roadway, slashed through downtown Boston. It separated the waterfront from the rest of the city and isolated the North End, running right through the middle of the business district on a great sweeping curved viaduct. (From my seat on the Green Line train, I could look directly into people’s office windows.)

For 50 years, the Central Artery has sliced through the heart of downtown Boston. Photo courtesy of The Boston Globe.

For 50 years, the Central Artery has sliced through the heart of downtown Boston. Photo courtesy of The Boston Globe.

The colossal endeavour saw the dismantling of a stretch of the I-93 and its rerouting within a 3.5mile tunnel buried beneath the city. The project faced every sort of challenge, from political and financial difficulties to environmental and engineering obstacles. But no one is looking back. With the massive barrier removed, the resultant green space, though flanked on both sides by a ground- level roadway, reunites neighbourhoods and acts as a crossroads for people travelling between them.

Greenway District Planning Study, image courtesy of Greenberg Consultants Inc.

Greenway District Planning Study, image courtesy of Greenberg Consultants Inc.

The Greenway. Image courtesy of The Boston Globe.

The Greenway. Image courtesy of The Boston Globe.

Best of Boston



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For Torontonians, the Greenway illustrates the social and environmental benefits of the open space network and serves as an interesting example of what this city might do were it to take down the Gardiner Expressway (shown below). Toronto: Look and Learn!

The Gardiner Expressway is downtown Toronto's main commuter artery, cutting an elevated swath through the core. Image courtesy of the City of Toronto.

The Gardiner Expressway is downtown Toronto’s main commuter artery, cutting an elevated swath through the core. Image courtesy of the City of Toronto.

On the other side of Boston’s Fort Point Channel, I checked out the Seaport District, a hotbed of construction and urban infill. The area has gone big with hotels, office buildings, and restaurants. Adjacent to it is the revitalized neighbourhood of Fort Point. New eateries have set up shop here but, you can still find artists’ studios and design firms holed up in its brick warehouses…


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Boston Strong

Manhattan’s Hudson River Park

On a recent trip to NYC, I saw wonderful urban planning strategies at Hudson River Park. It offers a huge variety of recreational activities and landscaped public spaces throughout its 550-acre footprint and sets a useful precedent for the ongoing development of Toronto’s waterfront.

Canada’s largest city’s skyline has been rapidly changing, in part due to a blitz of condo construction. Guided by Waterfront Toronto, the city has spent billions to revitalize a once heavily industrial lakefront and transform it into beautiful and sustainable new communities and parks. Now a private entity is proposing to expand a small inner-city island airport on the waterfront through jet aircraft and extended runways, paving 500m into the harbour and Lake Ontario.

Below are images of Hudson River Park in NYC. I imagine what the area would look like with an airport disgorging thousands of passengers per day. I think of its impact on neighbouring communities and services, on cultural activities, and on the quiet enjoyment of the waterfront by citizens and visitors alike. Alarming.





Manhattan Waterfront



Public spaces like the High Line and the 9/11 Memorial grounds are well worth a mention, and a visit, as well.



The Freedom Tower

9/11 Memorial


Eight kilometres of gentle pathways and wooden walking trails lead visitors through central Croatia’s Plitvička Jezera National Park. Natural dams of travertine form upper and lower levels with a total of sixteen lakes, each encircled by forest and dotted with waterfalls. Working their way down the mountain, hikers take in the waters’ shifting colours of green and azure, just one beautiful phenomenon of this lush landscape – a UNESCO World Natural Heritage site north of Zadar.

In the littoral city, families gather on a series of long marble steps along Zadar’s Nova Riva to swim and watch the sunset. While children launch themselves off the pier in convoluted dives and titanic cruise ships leave the nearby port, musical notes emanate from below the stone boardwalk in concert with the ebb and flow of the tide. Each lapping of the waves strikes lengths of pipe hidden underneath the stairs, their energy pushing an air column and emitting different chords through perforations in the ground. The resulting Sea Organ, as part of the overall design of the coastal promenade, is one of two art installations on the waterfront by Croatian architect Nikola Bašić. You can hear it here.

The other installation, immediately adjacent, is a solar art display in the form of a 22-metre diameter circle, entitled Greeting to the Sun (Istarska Obala). Embedded under glass that is flush with the stone promenade, photo-voltage solar modules absorb the sun’s energy and transform it into electrical energy, creating a dynamic play of lights. The synergy of both projects makes this urban public space even more successful when charged with its nightly performance.


Things are happening in Hamburg!

On a small scale, Knuffingen Airport opened this summer, well, a teeny tiny version of it anyway. Covering approximately 150 m², the installation is the most recently completed section of Miniatur Wunderland, a museum housing the world’s largest model railway. Detail-wise, nothing was missed. The airport has been outfitted with every sort of technical feature imaginable, even airplanes that take off and land. (Presently, they are navigated manually but a revolutionary autopilot system is in development). Be prepared to queue – one can spend hours ogling the museum’s outstanding layouts, from the Austrian Alps to a fleet of ships on the North Baltic Sea to the crowd-drawing, gravity-defying attractions of the USA. If you look closely, sometimes you’ll find random bizarre scenarios intermixed in the minutiae of detail – like monks stopped for highway speeding – small moments of humour injected by the exhibits’ builders, whose jobs couldn’t be more enviable! Until you get a chance to see these miniature marvels for yourself, the museum’s exquisitely rendered official video, a 5-minute engineering feat encapsulating many ‘wunderbare’ scenes, is the next best thing. Take a peek.

And the construction doesn’t stop there. A striking new full-size landmark in the Hanseatic city’s port is nearing completion. Designed by Herzog & de Meuron, the 37m high Elbe Philharmonic Hall is a tent-like superstructure sheathed in glass perched atop a brick warehouse where cocoa beans were once off-loaded. This entire cultural complex, which will house a ‘great hall’ and two other concert halls, a five-star hotel, and apartments is the latest highlight in HafenCity, an entirely new quarter emerging between the historic Speicherstadt warehouse district and the River Elbe, and one of the largest inner city urban expansion projects in the world. There’s no underestimating the lengths Hamburg will go.

For all the ongoing building activity, Hamburg was still bestowed the title “European Green Capital 2011” by the European Commission to acknowledge the city’s commitment to environmental protection. It is taking great measures to cut C02 emissions by creating sustainable buildings and businesses, maintaining nature-protected areas, and manufacturing the world’s largest fleet of hydrogen-fuelled buses. Even its immense port, for which Hamburg is best known, wants to make its entire transport chain environmentally friendly. It just goes to show how a major (growing) industrial hub can have a successful balance between business interests and the environment. Eligible cities vying for the top honour are assessed on the basis of 12 indicator areas, including biodiversity and eco-innovation. Applications are being accepted for 2014. Anyone, … anyone?

A city of parks and waterways, Hamburg should be experienced from the water, say, on a boat cruise along the Alster lakes and river. Start in the lake harbour and tour through narrow canals – a boggy oasis for water lilies, reeds and ferns – past secluded gardens, town houses and villas. Did you know that there are more bridges within its city limits than in Amsterdam and Venice combined?

Head to the rustically decorated Gröninger brewery for drinks and the usual heavy German fare. You can order a 10-Litre beer barrel for 75 Euro and then get tanked serve yourself right at the table. Better yet, visit the traditional Fischmarkt in St Pauli on Sunday mornings where hundreds of traders sell their wares, bands play deafening oompah music, and the beer is a-flowin.’ It’s a trip to watch the vendors auctioning off ‘variety packs’ of fresh fish to the throngs of onlookers. They holler and wave and try to underbid the guy in the next stall. Their ease and confidence is no doubt built upon the centuries-old foundations of harbour trading and loose bargaining that goes along with it. Get to the market at 5am if you can – for some the party just continues and for others it just gets started.

Until October 20, you can see an interactive urban environment exhibition on the „Train of Ideas“ – a “rolling ambassador for the city of the future” – at Jungfernstieg (Reesendammbrücke)

Copenhagen is design

The Danes don’t have all the answers but they do believe that good design can contribute to solving both local and global challenges. It’s no wonder that Copenhagen trumps other cities when it comes to quality of life.

Denmark residents rank themselves as happiest and there’s no doubt that seamless urban planning plays into that satisfaction. Of note is Copenhagen’s well functioning transport system and infrastructure, focus on environmental issues, and the overall scale of the city – large enough to have a vibrant cultural scene and embrace the benefits of diversity, yet you can get anywhere on bicycle. (It’s near impossible to take a photo here without a bike getting into the shot.)

Copenhagen Design Week just wrapped up its second year’s show, the programme of which was stacked with exhibits, conferences, lectures, and tours themed “Think Human.” The human condition has been the basis for Danish product design for decades (eminent architects’ furniture of the ’50s comes to mind) but the same focus carries into the context of the larger scale – how cities can frame urban life in the 21st century – and Copenhagen is a thriving model. The design capital, coined a ‘living lab of sustainable urban development,’ has undergone extensive economic, cultural and architectural changes during the past decade. Peppered with towering cranes, the landscape has been vastly transformed: ambitious growth in Ørestad (once a windswept field) and the old grounds of the Carlsberg brewery; new housing areas like Sluseholmen and Havneholmen; new cultural landmarks; new transportation connections; and, green spaces in the old working-class areas. Each of these provides ideas for how the urban challenges of cities can be met with architectural answers.

On display at the Danish Architecture Center is ’What makes a liveable city,’ the last in a series of exhibitions by Copenhagen X, which disseminates information on architectural innovation and invites the public to engage in dialogue about urban planning. An elaborate presentation in various media – models, master plans, interactive digital galleries and animation – is used to exemplify recently completed projects and long-term ones in the works. In particular, the development of Nordhavnen is featured in great detail. This former industrial port will be transformed over the next 50 years into a dense waterfront district that can accommodate up to 80,000 residents. Short distances are planned for the area, as are islets and canals, and priority will be given to green mobility. Nordhavnen spearheads efforts to improve environmental conditions and show how cities can help reverse climate change while still ensuring health, welfare, and quality of life.

Copenhagen X – the movie’ shows the recent transformation of the city in rapidly changing image sequences, while ’From Finger Plan to Loop City (1947-2047)’, a sweeping 3D visualization by firms BIG and Kollision, illustrates the story of how the capital developed in modern times and a futuristic vision of how it could be linked with the Øresund Region with a single metropolitan loop.

Visitors could take guided architectural tours, as ‘podwalks’ or by bicycle to see iconic buildings and districts to get a better sense of the massive scope. Highlights included the newly inaugurated Krystallen by Schmidt Hammer and the SEB Bank & Pension HQ by Lundgaard & Tranberg Arkitekter, as well landmarks such as the ‘Black Diamond’, the impressive Royal Library extension; Gemini Residence; Opera House; Concert Hall, and the student residence Tietgenkollegiet. It was interesting to see how new urban spaces surrounding the buildings invite a broader audience to use the spaces. With panoramic views of the historic skyline as a backdrop, the oak-clad public promenade on the harbour at Kvæsthusmolen, the Royal Danish Playhouse, became the site for weekly summer Tango dancing by moonlight.

The Danish Design Center‘s (DDC) ongoing exhibition ‘Challenge Society’ explores how to design systems and services to improve the country’s ailing welfare state. Prisons and nursing homes, for instance, have teamed up with designers to re-imagine their operations and find creative and ‘simple’ strategies to increase efficiency and solve complex problems. Per international experts, the key to business in the future is ‘design thinking,’ and it’s required at all levels: nations, global communities, individuals and private enterprises. “It’s not about inventing new things but designing the world in a new way,” says Merete Brunander, acting CEO at the DDC.