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Rivers and ports: the new urban venues for creation and recreation


A pedestrian precinct on the quays of the Seine, the redevelopment of the banks of the Hudson in New York, a festive atmosphere along the Spree in Berlin, the multiplication of marinas in Greater Paris… Rivers are back in the city! City authorities are coming up with original ways of using their rivers and ports in an effort to boost their appeal and meet the new expectations of their inhabitants. A look at a booming urban trend.

Bordeaux, Garonne River – Credit : ©SUEZ/William Daniels

Reconnecting rivers and cities

For many years, cities viewed their rivers and canals as little more than a means of transporting goods. By enabling commercial exchanges, rivers and industrial ports have always played a decisive role in the economic development of our cities.
While maritime trade, with its containers, has become one of the emblems of the globalisation of exchanges, nationwide and continent-wide river transport slumped significantly in the 20th century. This drop in river traffic resulted in numerous structures (warehouses, quays, pontoons, etc.) in city centres and in the suburbs becoming derelict.
But over the last 10 years, urban developers, geographers, local NGOs and politicians have woken up to this issue and are taking action to transform the use of rivers and to reclaim river banks, quays and rivers for recreational and urban purposes. Rivers and certain port infrastructures, which were previously just a means of transport, are now becoming a source of urban development that can improve the quality of life of inhabitants, develop the local economy and boost appeal for tourists.

Riversides: the new urban recreational spaces

Reconnecting cities with their rivers consists, to a large extent, in reclaiming riversides for recreational purposes. In Europe’s capital cities, rivers are becoming a means of rediscovering the quality of life: riverside cafés and concerts, floating swimming pools, development of cycling paths and other means of green mobility, sports activities, etc.
In Berlin, almost 12 beaches have been built along the central Spree River since 2002, hosting leisure, sports and tourist facilities.
In Paris, the conversion of the banks of the Seine into a pedestrian precinct also aims to promote the use of the river for recreational and sporting activities.
From Lyon to Bordeaux, and from New York to London, cities all over the world are looking to their rivers in order to meet their inhabitants’ demands for a better quality of life.

Marinas: promoting local development and appeal

On the strength of the initiatives taken by certain large cities, some smaller towns have also understood the importance of reconnecting with their rivers, by, for example, creating marinas that support their development and boost their appeal.
The redevelopment of three marinas in Asnières-sur-Seine and Villeneuve-la-Garenne to the west of Paris is one emblematic project that is already under way.

Credit :©SUEZ/Marinov

Voies Navigables de France (VNF), France’s inland waterways authority, and SUEZ have developed a global programme to manage these facilities that aims to offer new services for users and to reconnect the ports with their towns, while reconciling these new activities with concerns regarding the conservation of water resources and the development of biodiversity. A trendy new riverside dance hall, food trucks, naturalised riverbanks and trips in electric boats are just some of the initiatives that will turn these sites into leisure venues for city dwellers. The new ports will be inaugurated between 2017 and 2019.

Returning the rivers to their cities and reclaiming the use of rivers for city dwellers are trends that combine urban planning, the management of natural resources and local development. After the “green city”, could the “blue city” become a new opportunity?

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