Cities with water are sizzling! Tourism, commerce and 24/7 lifestyle flourish in beautiful, watery settings. Some places are experiencing both sides of the coin–runaway success and inadequate resources to handle growth and the needs of local populations. Can there be too much of a good thing? Come along as we look at a half-dozen cities: Rotterdam, Hamburg, Venice, Reykjavik, Venice and Rome.
ROTTERDAM: Rebirth of a Port City
Europe’s largest port has gained a well-deserved reputation as a cool place to live and work, rebuilt since its World War II bombing and once hindered by its reputation as a gritty port city. Talk about cultural diversity! There are 170 nationalities in a population of 630,000 – maybe the highest diversity in Europe!
Europoort (the port city) is a wonder to behold via high-speed tour boat, with a slew of artificial islands and waterways leading to the shipping lanes. Walk the Coolsingel, the earliest “walking street” in Europe (no cars allowed). Well-designed office towers (Rem Koolhaas, Norman Foster, Renzo Piano) line the Nieuw Maas River for memorable vistas from the Boomje Promenade. Cross the Nieuw Maas via the iconic Erasmus Bridge –aka Swan Bridge for its graceful beauty –to the Entrepot design district.
What’s cool today? Edgy urban design and sustainable floating projects add a new vibe and assets to waterfronts throughout the city.
Signature Building – A New Landmark
De Markthal may be the boldest food experience in Europe right now – even if it’s not on a canal — with a shop-eat-live signature building in the historic Laurenskwartier, the pre-war center of Rotterdam. Opened in October 2014, Markthal is a 175-million euro collaborative venture of Provast development firm (Den Haag) and the Dutch government for affordable housing. The design is from the Rotterdam-based firm MVRDV, an architecture and urban planning firm, with a wide-ranging international clientele. The co-architect is INBO, Netherlands
The see-through marketplace building is cathedral-like, with an interior height of 40 meters. An all-over tile mural –the largest in Europe — is a food cornucopia by Arno Coenen and Iris Roskam; it covers the 11,000-square-meter ceiling and walls, with oversized raspberries, snow peas, avocados, fish, flowers, butterflies and insects, streaming down like manna from heaven. On the market floor, it’s show-time: 100 fresh food stalls, from dedicated stalls for sausages, potatoes and mushrooms, to biologique meat, traiteur stands of prepared foods, and Indonesian spices (a nod to Dutch history and trade). Around and atop the market: 96 apartments, range up to three bedrooms for intown living. Read our expanded story on Markthal
The Dutch are masters of creating or reclaiming land from the sea (polder) and they also love making things float – trees, farms, activity centers, housing. If it floats, the Dutch love it.
Plans are underway in Rotterdam to create a floating urban district by 2040 –a live-work-shop concept – that eventually will include housing. It’s part of an ongoing drive to help climate-proof the city with sustainable districts for the future. One study on climate-proof floating structures suggests that buildings could be up to 15 stories in height.
Here’s a few examples:
Rotterdam’s Bobbing Forest (Dobberend Bos) became a reality in March 2016 when young trees were installed in floating containers – that look like buoys – to add appeal and whimsy to the Rijnhaven harbor, on the south side of the Nieuw Maas River. Sculptor Jorge Bakker hatched the idea and a committee of artists and designers proposed this installation – one of a series of floating art projects for the harbor. The idea of a floating forest – or park –could help revitalize this neighborhood, not to mention cities like New Orleans and Miami where rising sea levels jeopardize public space.
Nearby there’s a Floating Pavilion moored at Rijnhaven, perfect for entertaining, with kitchen facilities, auditorium and conference space for all sorts of events. The three solar-powered hemispheres look a lot like Buckminster Fuller domes. Toronto Star article
A Floating Dairy Farm with a herd of 40-60 cows is under development as a self-sustaining venture to bring food sources closer to consumers. See the video
Waste and water treatment will be integrated into the project. The project is a collaboration of three companies: Courage, the innovation institute of the Dutch Agriculture and Dairy sector; Uit Je Eigen Stad, the national frontrunner on City farming; and Beladon, the leading Dutch company on floating concepts.
HAMBURG GERMANY: Greening the Waterfront
Switch gears and connect to Hamburg – Europe’s second largest container port — where the uber-green HafenCity redevelopment on the Elbe River integrates corporate offices (Der Spiegel, Unilever), flood resistant high-rise apartments, and the newest jewel in the crown – the Elbphilharmonie.
Historically a Hanseatic (League) city –population 1.8 million, and metro area of 5 million–Hamburg has taken nearly 20 years to realize the vision approved by its Senate in 2000 for a masterplan that moved the functional maritime container port further out from the older riverside district and opened up 5,500 hectares of land for development – some 19.4 million square feet of new construction. It’s called the largest urban development initiative in Europe, with mind-boggling features: waterfront revival, 24-hour ecocity, integrated business-residential development, historic preservation, brownfields remediation, renewable energy.
HafenCity is a waterfront live-work-play environment. There are 10 distinctive districts that feature offices for 12,000 employees representing some 730 companies, residential space, a public school, university building, lengthy public promenades and footbridges that take you to other quarters including a Traditional Ship Harbor with historic craft. Promenades, parks and plazas link
Resilience is key: Once plagued by floods and storm surges, parts of the “new” HafenCity waterfront lie outside the city’s main dike that affords protection from these events. Instead, the sites are planned with “tiered development” set up in vertical layers. Apartment buildings have first floor parking garages that can be flooded in event of an emergency. Another layer could be flooded in event of a major emergency. Higher layers accommodate infrastructure (e.g. metro stops) and apartments. It’s called “tiered development” set up in vertical layers. See the video
The recently opened Elbphilharmonie –like a proud, masted sailing ship coming into the harbor–sits at the tip of a promontory known as Sandtorhafen, atop a massive brick warehouse that once stored cocoa. The 18-story glass box has exquisite fenestration – curved glass windows, some with cutouts. The combined structure totals over 1.3 million square feet. It is the home of the German Radio Symphony Orchestra (renamed NDR Ephilharmonie Orchestra), a hotel, residential apartments, museum and restaurants. Two concert halls are nestled inside – one contains 2150 seats, the other, chamber space for 550, both with world-class acoustics. Architects Herzog and DeMeuron
Two of the Philharmonie’s best features: a piazza and an outdoor terrace that offers spectacular views of the Elbe and the container port, from 120 feet above ground. The New York Times critic calls the Philharmonie as complex as a Fabergé egg! New York Times
Every event in the 2017 inaugural season has been a sell-out – and no surprise, given the architectural miracle that Swiss-based Herzog & de Meuron accomplished. It’s a masterpiece representing a modern Germany –after years of delays and significant cost overruns (cost approx. $843 million), with a fair amount of grumbling from the public over the funding. But, according to the critics, it was certainly worth it!
REYKJAVIK : Boom Times Follow the Bust
It’s an island nation in the North Atlantic, and a sought-after destination. When the U.S. economy tanked in 2008, it brought down Iceland’s three major banks, wreaked havoc with pension funds, and required government capital controls to keep the krona from leaving the country (flight capital).
The capital Reykjavik – with a great reputation as a layover destination and low-cost getaway– is experiencing boom times, with a dramatic waterside Harpa concert hall and convention center in its East Harbor that draws 140,000 visitors a month. The city’s population, a mere 123,000! Construction cranes are swinging, more buildings are going up in the East Harbor. Officials actually credit the healthy tourist volume during the down times with helping the economy rebound – but the question remains, at what cost? (See the WIRED article)
The Harpa Center—which houses the symphony, opera and other venues — is the waterfront linchpin of new East Harbor development. Glass, light and color has a major role in the Harpa center. Here’s how it’s described: “With honeycomb windows and sliding asymmetric planes, Harpa is a breathtaking work of civic architecture. A collaboration between Danish architectural firm Henning Larsen and Icelandic firm Batteríið Arkitektar the Icelandic love of immense glass planes is maintained with an injection of Danish innovation here. The structure is a dynamic mass of angles and walls of differing heights and orientations. See review of the Harpa Center in the Guardian.
Renowned Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson (Waterfalls project in NYC) made a significant contribution to Harpa –a stunning design for the south façade– and developed the principle for the remaining north/east/west facades and roof, in collaboration with Henning Larsen Architects and Batteríið Architects. The south façade features glass window panels with individually colored panes that cast light onto the interior, joining together as they touch a solid surface with sensual, moving shadows that form new colors.
TED talk with Olafur Eliasson
Icelanders expect some 2.3 million visitors in 2017 – about 5 times more than in 2010. Morever, one of every three jobs in Iceland is tourism-related—bringing in some $3.4 billion annually –so the teeming visitor population is great for Iceland’s general economy.
“Gunnar Þór Jóhannesson, professor of geography and tourism at the University of Iceland, says the country desperately needs better infrastructure and a plan for minimizing and mitigating the environmental impact of all those people,” says in the WIRED Magazine story. “Uncontrolled tourism does have negative impacts on the environment,” says Jóhannesson, speaking of how sheer numbers end up trampling delicate and historic sites. Here’s a case of how boom times mean the locals have to struggle with the influx. A double-edged sword indeed.
SAVING VENICE: Too much love?
Reports of the death of Venice may be premature, but the city’s magnetism– a “been-there-done-that” experience for millions of day-tripping tourists annually from mega-sized cruise ships and cheap flights – threatens the beautiful medieval island-city as never before.
In its 1500-year-old life, Venice has been a maritime powerhouse, mercantile center, vibrant city, region, and republic. And it’s been a go-to destination for literati and cultural elites since the 18th century. Those who lived and loved there include Marco Polo, Casanova, Vivaldi, Fortuny, Canaletto, Tiepolo and modern crime series writer Donna Leon.
Today Venice a living museum –– and architectural treasure house comprised of 118 small islands linked together by 400 bridges; plus a railroad bridge that brings people from Mestre.
But it’s changed. Since 1987, when UNESCO named Venice a World Heritage Site, La Serenissima (“the most serene”) has experienced a steep decline in population, shops and services for locals, civic life, and social fabric, so say recent articles, with 30 million annual visitors. Citylab article
Despite the downside for locals, tourism has flourished, with up to 30 million visitors a year—one estimate is 60,000 a day — many arriving on cruise ships the length of a football field (13-15 decks); they disembark for a few hours, and then depart. It’s been called “eat and flee” or “smash and grab” tourism. New York Times article.
The sheer popularity of Venice as a destination has led to overexploitation, ugly visual pollution, conversion of former residential housing into an Airbnb empire. And yes, the medieval city’s viewshed in St. Mark’s Square and streets are continuously bombarded by throngs of tourists.
Giovanni Di Giorgio, a 23-year-old native-born Venetian and member of pressure group Generazione 90, sums up the problem in a Citylab story: This pressure is fundamentally reshaping the city, and not for the better. “Venice as it was 20 years ago just doesn’t exist anymore,” he says.
Multiple local groups — Generazione 90, Gruppo 25 Aprile, We Are Venice—are working to protect the lagoon, manage tourism, reverse population decline, stop large cruise ships.
Their mantra: “Make Venice for Venetians and for the World.” Who is listening ?
ROME: Running on Empty?
Rome has twin water problems: The city is facing severe water shortages and its iconic Tiber River is a dirty mess. Yes, you heard it right.
The Roman Empire tamed and controlled water for a thousand years, with brilliantly engineered aqueducts – the Appio that supplied Rome, the Pont du Gard that made Nimes, France, a standout, with pure drinking water that also drove agriculture and urban development. Today extreme climate and aging infrastructure are making Romans – and millions of visitors – suffer like never before. That includes 41 million overnight visitors to the “City of Seven Hills.”
Known in the ancient world as Regina Aquarum (queen of the waters), Rome today has just a temporary reprieve from water rationing until September 1, to continue taking fresh water from Lake Bracciano (25 miles away) where the water level is already down five feet, for the general population.
Staggered closings of the city’s 2500 drinking fountains – called nasone, or big nose – is underway. The Pope began cutting off water to its fountains in late July—that includes the iconic Bernini fountain in St. Peter’s Square. The bigger problem is aging pipes – some 40% of the water that flows through them leaks out through cracks in the pipes.
The Tiber River, often considered the “birthplace” of Rome, from which the mythical twins Romulus and Remus were rescued, is hardly the dazzling promenade that should attract millions of visitors.
It is dirty, murky, the promenade choked with weeds and other vegetation, embankments filled with graffiti, litter strewn over the sidewalk – in short, it’s filthy and hardly the asset it could be for the millions who visit Rome to see the Coliseum and Vatican Museum.
Ignoring a neglected waterfront is a huge mistake that undermines tourism and demoralizes locals, so think volunteer and nonprofit groups that have sprung up to clean up, create public art along the Tiber, and “retake” the river as an iconic emblem that weaves through the city. Rome’s municipal administrators seem unable to determine who’s in charge and how to handle the problems (garbage throughout the city of Rome is also an issue).
Tevereterno is a New York City-founded group active in bringing free cultural programming to the Tiber. Among its advisers are internationally renowned artists: William Kentridge, Jenny Holzer, Nico Muhly, Alvin Curran, Roberto Catani, David Monacchi, Steve Reich, and Kiki Smith. And there’s the Associazione Tevereterno Onlus made up of multidisciplinary professionals who are engaged in urban planning initiatives and educational programming. Other groups include Retake Rome (est 2009) and Consorzio Tiberino – both offer energized volunteers who want to revitalize the waterfront. Their motto: Wake Up , Clean Up, Speak Up.