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The concept was simple: Given the transformation stemming from The Forks in the last 30 years, how might Winnipeg's river system be re-imagined over the next three decades?
Working in conjunction with architect David Penner of StorefrontMB — an umbrella organization incorporating architects, engineers and designers — the Free Press, as part of The Rivers series, solicited proposals for waterfront projects called RiverCity2050.
There were no parameters but for imagination. After all, who can predict technological advances over the next 35 years?
Some of the proposals were modest and realistic. Some were more ambitious, even controversial.
The goal, however, was not to decide what could work and what couldn't, but to spark discussion of what might be possible.
The following are 10 separate submissions from firms and architecture students. They range from water buses on ice to turning the Red River into a whitewater rafting chute, but all have the same purpose: To help Winnipeggers re-engage with what many urban planners believe is the city's greatest untapped resource.
THE LINK is a floating structure on the river that promotes connectivity across communities and encourages year-round urban engagement with Winnipeg's rivers. The Assiniboine and Red rivers have been historically significant pathways, and the central meeting place for people across the prairies for thousands of years. The proposal aims to re-link the communities adjacent to the river with a five-kilometre path in the centre of the river between North Point Douglas and The Forks. This new path will be river-centric, bringing the activity from the city onto the river with a series of floating structures. The floating structures will be rotatable to allow for boat thoroughfare and flexible to promote interchangeable, multi-programming space.
For the floating structure, neighbourhood nodes for docking and infrastructure will be built in each community and existing public-park space as a place to get on and off the structure. These neighbourhood nodes will promote development within the communities and become new hubs of activity. The floating structure will be multi-programmed to promote both day and night activity. Potential programs include a cafe, music/theatre venue, monarch butterfly habitat, community gardens and an elevated park/plaza.
— Architecture students Zaid Bin Tanveer, Mamie Griffith, Maryam Haghshenasiari, and Jennifer Yablonowski.
"Fresh Floating Food" is a modular and pseudo-nomadic infrastructure of food-producing barges that bring fresh produce to the city's food deserts and life to the river. Barges link together in key locations to gather power and water from central hubs where they grow their food. When the produce is ready, the barges separate and travel to different parts of the city along the river — in the historic tradition of trade and transport of the rivers. The greenhouse barges then set-up temporary farmer's markets to sell their produce. Once their supply of produce has been sold, the barges will meander back along the river to the hub where they will restart the growing cycle. As the barges return to their hub, they will create new arrangements, creating an ever changing and dynamic landscape upon the river.
The barges link up to a main hub, which provides power and water to the hydroponic greenhouses by utilizing the flow of the river and the ample solar power. The station also provides a link between downtown and St. Boniface.
As the farm of linked barges grows, restaurants, researchers, and other groups will occupy barges and link in with their programs. Public plazas, parks, and urban garden barges will also link to create new civic spaces, pulling the urban fabric from the land onto the water.
During the summer and fall, the barges are free to float along the rivers, with potential to follow them outside of the city to bring produce to more rural communities. As winter approaches and the river freezes, the base of the barges will be inflated to allow them to be pulled across the ice by snowmobile and create new destinations along the frozen river trail. In the spring, the barges will avoid the ice-flow by docking along the river in spaces that serve a civic purpose the rest of the year.
— Architecture students Francis Garcia, Stefan Klassen, and Zach Nimchuk.
Why is it that come summer, the rivers of Winnipeg are largely vacant of water-based public activity?
This proposal begins as a reaction against the mass exodus to lakes and beaches beyond the city, and hopes to address the problems and negative perceptions that prevent the public from enjoying water recreation closer to home. It offers an alternative to recreational lake-culture, but one that is also unique and innovative in its own way.
The main issues that we identified as negatively impacting the use of the river are: lack of support infrastructure for activities, discouragement of pedestrian activity due to obstacles, excessively fast river current, and poor water quality/pollutants. To deal with these issues, the proposal is to split a section of the river between the Louise Bridge and the rail bridge further south, speeding up the narrower portion, and damming off the larger portion so that it can gradually be filled with clean, filtered water and made available for use by the public.
The project encompasses the reactivation of the formerly thriving marina at 312 Nairn Ave., as a water-sport and recreational hub, featuring an elongated boathouse that draws the street level directly out onto the water. This structure features a fully activated roof space with a restaurant, terraced seating cantilevered directly over the water, and a canoe and kayak station on the lower level. River water filtration will be dealt with through the diversion of a portion of the river flow through debris screens, a marshy retention area and a series of large filtering tanks. The marshy area around the filtration tanks is to become a habitat zone for river organisms that is partially accessible to the public through guided boat tours. The rapid movement of water through the narrowed river channel is imagined as a hybrid hydroelectric turbine array and whitewater-rafting course that will provide energy for adjacent communities, and offer an opportunity for Winnipeggers to put their rafting skills to the test.
— Architecture students Jon Ferreira, Mitchell McIntosh and Emeil Alvarez.
Winnipeg has held the nickname "River City" for many years, so it's about time we earned it. The development of our city occurs almost in spite of the beautiful flowing waters we inherit this moniker from. So You Want To Be A River City? (SYWTBARC) proposes to blur the lines between river and city, channelling the water beyond its banks and bringing it closer to Winnipeggers so it can truly be a part of this city's culture.
Throughout the Netherlands, Italy and Japan, rivers are invited into cities where it is able to influence their culture in a positive way.
The confluence of the Assiniboine and Red rivers created an ideal location for settlers. The rivers acted as trade and transport routes as well as a resource for fishing and agriculture. Now, they are seldom traveled, as citizens turn to cars as a main mode of transportation.
SYWTBARC aims to bring the rivers to the front lines as an alternative to paved city roads. Narrowing roads and making large, traversable cuts throughout the city to create man-made canals that bring the river deeper into adjacent neighbourhoods and urban areas can begin the transition from a car-oriented city to one with multiple, more active commuter options. In residential areas, "feeder" streets will be replaced with canals providing citizens with more access to the water. Existing backlane infrastructure will continue to handle vehicular traffic while Winnipeggers begin to form a more intimate relationship with the rivers, similar to how the first settlers of this city did.
These canals will offer opportunity for year-round transportation; linking boats to the main river ways in the spring, summer and fall, and snow routes for skates and skis during the winter. As the canals approach empty city lots, opportunities arise to transform these unused areas into urban beaches or water-level plazas.
— Architecture students Stephanie Sewell (front left) Tim Horton and Yao Yao Li.
Winnipeg in 2050 will see rivers that are level-controlled. The Red River Floodway, for example, will have been redesigned to absorb its seasonal fluctuations, and the Assiniboine River will have its own floodway west of the city.
The rivers will also be cleaner. The health of Lake Winnipeg will have necessitated significant action related to the purification of not only waste water and storm water going into our rivers, but agricultural run-off as well. The government will have developed man-made wetlands strategically throughout the province.
Our vision is not new. The Winnipeg Freeway will stretch an existing network of casual cycling and pedestrian river-oriented paths into a serious and effective system that provides an uninterrupted core route for alternate transportation.
Drawing from the successes of the Seawall in Vancouver, the Pompidou Park in Paris, and London's Deckway, the Winnipeg Waterfront Freeway will weave along both sides of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers providing an exquisite view of the city and significant relief to traffic congestion. Using existing public parks and utility corridors for access points, it will connect to secondary systems of inland dedicated cycle ways. Private ownership of riverfront properties has been resolved by the introduction of a government-funded riverbank revetment program to stabilize the banks.
— David Penner Architecture.
With the growing appreciation of the Red and Assiniboine rivers, Winnipeg has revitalized and developed the waterfronts into useable public spaces, trails and parks. Slowly becoming the longest natural river development, the riverfronts within the city limits will be a complete green corridor by the year 2055. The mass exodus of gas-powered vehicles has left the city to develop electric-powered public transportation. One such mode of transportation is the WRT, or Winnipeg Rivers Transportation, that utilizes the river as a main artery of public transportation. The newly developed buses transform with the seasons to transport citizens along the river lines.
In the warmer months, the buses act as high-speed hydrodynamic boats that glide over the river creating little wake. When the ice takes over the rivers, the busses are effortlessly transformed into high-speed ice crawlers that trek over the snow and ice. Terminals are located along the waterfront and become important programmatic nodes incorporated into the newly formed public spaces. These terminals are connected to the large overhaul of the electric powered transit lines that now occupy public streets. The WRT has become a vital mode of sustainable public transportation that activates the waterfront.
How it's done (in terms of technology), we don't know. That's how people should see it, as unattainable. But it boils down to what we need. What do you need on a human scale and how does it benefit the city as a whole?
— Aaron Pollock, U of M, masters of architecture student, design intern at NumberTEN Architectural Group.
The province and city have decided to consider riparian health as a top priority. Funding has been allocated for the separation of storm and sewer lines; wider greenways were also incorporated. Local farmers can now take advantage of this newly established space ample in sunshine, and clean nutrient-rich water. Quietly floating by, moored to docks and at time each other, the floating gardens are an edible, engaging experience in the city. At popular points along the river, these crafts assemble to create ad-hoc farmers markets where people can meander through the gardens and purchase vegetables. When enough of these floating gardens are present, its paths span the river and create ephemeral bridges, connecting the city. The largest of these gatherings happens at harvests in autumn and seed swapping events after the ice breaks and begins to flow. Urban river farms can be constructed by farmers using the proposed locally crafted octagonal modules. The solid elm rings are fitted with oak dowels, which tighten as they swell in the water. These 460mm-wide timbers act as sturdy pathways. Within the octagons are woven willow coracles, which contain nutrient rich silt, and slowly growing healthy food.
— Rachael Alpern and Anjali Talwar, an environmental engineer and architectural intern.
"This was just crazy enough to intrigue people."
Such was the audacity behind "Shut the Flood Up!", which was originally proposed by the firm of Ager Little Architects for the Free Press competition Re-Imagining Winnipeg (and one of the inspirations for The Rivers project).
The proposal envisioned a drier Winnipeg where the floodgates are closed for good, the Red River diverted around the city and the riverbed temporarily vacant.
A dry riverbed would reveal approximately 1,500 acres of prime urban land and previously hidden topography. Shut the Flood Up! proposed a vision for Winnipeg that explores new connections and new opportunities for year-round public activity focused on intertwining neighbourhood identities and civic character.
Planning a place four times the size of Assiniboine Park allows for neighbourhood redevelopment with traditional and sculptural green space, controlled canals, rolling hills for toboganning, undulating recreation paths, and new energy for efficient housing. In cities like Vienna and Salzburg in Austria, Munich in Germany and Strasbourg and Paris in France, planning is devoted to ensuring the city stays lively year round. New civic space would feature festival plazas, controlled canals for skating or kayaking, boardwalks, clean lakes with urban beaches, ski trails and European-style markets.
"It's starting to take the magic you have at The Forks and stretching it out over 630 acres," said Gail Little.
Tom Monteyne's vision revolves around the concept, "The No. 1 thing lacking in this city is urbanity."
That is, designing a city to encourage active transportation and interaction between residents and the surrounding natural environment.
Syverson Monteyne Architecture Inc.'s proposal is a three-tiered bridge over Omands Creek, at the junction of the Assiniboine River. The area is already a popular biking/hiking destination and fishing spot.
"It's a beautiful little valley," Monteyne said, referring to one of the few natural slopes within city limits. "It's a classic condition."
The bowed bridge design is 10-feet wide. The top tier is at street level. The second tier is pedestrian only, while the bottom tier is a cluster of concrete slabs with flat tops, which could be traversed.
"It's very leisurely," Monteyne said. "It's like being a kid and creating a way to explore. I guess what we're trying to say is there's more than one way to cross a river, and more than one reason."
During spring flooding, the pedestrian level could be ankle deep, but still allow crossing. The second tier would also be enclosed by mesh, which would serve as a "strainer" for river water.
The use of telephone poles as posts is inspired by old railway trestle bridges.
"It's not that complicated," Monteyne said. "It isn't just about getting from A to B, but it gets you from A to B and it makes your life better, hopefully."
We value the bridges that stretch across the river of Winnipeg as a public asset that allows us transportation and connection throughout the city. Often devalued are the sheltered spaces formed below the infrastructure above. By 2050, we will turn our focus upside down to see the hidden potential of these leftover spaces, animating them with vibrant public space. The singular function of the bridge will be hybridized to offer new public amenities along the riverbank. Using the robust structure of the bridge and the natural systems of the river, these spaces will be transformed by the community with floating public pools, outdoor cinemas, art installations, hanging gardens, fishing platforms, habitable shelters, rock climbing walls, boat slips and floating agricultural fields.
"They're already public and it's infrastructure that's already there that offers us an opportunity to build off of it," Monica Hutton said.
There are 16 such spaces within city limits.
Added Tyler Loewen: “Our idea is to re-imagine the underside. It's also accessing the water and being on the water. That connection has been lost. These could become hubs to put even more people down there. And the idea it can also start small. It doesn't have to be all of these things at once."
— Architecture interns Monica Hutton and Tyler Loewen.