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Rivers and Cities: Smart design

Posted in Models by Kate Archdeacon on August 17th, 2009

Source: Sustainable Design blog

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Image: Sasha via picasa

The Dreisam river runs straight through a large portion of Freiburg, in  Germany.  It is diverted throughout the town for a variety of purposes. The river, which had been artificially constructed away from its original flow in the late 1800’s, is surrounded by greenery and excellent bicycle and pedestrian pathways. The city has an unusual system of gutters (called Bächle) that run throughout its centre. These Bächle, once used to provide water to fight fires and feed livestock, are constantly flowing with water diverted from the Dreisam. These Bächle were never used for sewage, as such usage could lead to harsh penalties, even in the Middle Ages. During the summer, the running water provides natural cooling of the air, and offers a pleasant, gurgling sound.

The river contributes to drainage for the city helping the water flow through parts of the city easily (no flooding due to diversion).  People along side the river use it for irrigating their plants, crops, and gardens.  There are many areas for recreation such as swimming, biking, walking, exercise for people and their pets, and a calm place to sit.  It is also a prime area for artists to perform graffiti and “rock art” giving them creative spots away from buildings and downtown.

Frequent access points make the river accessible from many places along it. A paved path on one side eases in bike, roller blade and wheel chair use, making pedestrian traffic safer on the unpaved side. All stairways on the paved side are equipped with ramps to facilitate wheeled travelers. Clear signage makes it clear where bikes and mopeds are allowed and forbidden. A variety of vehicles and travelers were seen, including different kinds of bicycles, mopeds, Nordic skiers and service vehicles. The river itself was easy to access from the paths, and many people were seen sticking their feet in, rinsing their hands, and wading to their ankles. Although there were a few benches along the way, there could have been more places to sit.

Along and inside the river, it is easy to spot formal and informal art installations. From sculptures to graffiti, there is evidence that the Dreisam incorporates art into public spaces. In the core of the city, the sculptures emerge midstream in the Bächle or punctuate the end of a Bächle path. See pictures of the crocodile and hands & feet in the slideshow for examples of this. Alongside the river, train tracks and road overpasses are host to a variety of murals and graffiti pieces. These walls are thickened by an unknown number of paint layers beneath the current (and temporary graffiti) murals at the surface. We learned that the City of Freiburg issues graffiti permits to some artists, allowing graffiti in certain areas of the city. Some of the graffiti pieces are more artistic and sophisticated than others, but at minimum, the use of color in all of the graffiti provides a pleasing compliment to the interplay of natural and urban landscape. Some murals seem to reflect on the uses of the river, with one saying, “Keep it Cool,” perhaps referencing the river’s ability to act as a natural cooling system for the city.

Source: Sustainable Design blog

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