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RIVER_SPACE is a project created for WET AND DRY: RIVER PATTERNS AND HUMAN INTERVENTION, a University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Spring 2017 design workshop taught by Jessica Henson, focusing on the relationship between environmental factors and human intervention in American river systems. 

RIVER_SPACE investigates how urban flood protection along the Mississippi River can be turned into adaptive, proactive social infrastructure. The levee system along the Mississippi River is vital to flood protection along the urbanized areas. The region’s most urbanized areas, St. Louis and Cape Girardeau, Missouri, currently use floodwalls as protective measures. At the moment, the cities are closed off to their river system, having their backs to the Mississippi, and treating it like the working, industrial riverfront that is vital to the economic health of this region. The floodwalls serve as a giant barrier to the water.

What if the floodwall could be more and have other elements extending off of it? Being constructed from the late 1950s to the early 1960s, the floodwalls are currently past their 50-year lifespan and will need to be re-constructed. Now is the time to rethink what a floodwall can be. RIVER_SPACE imagines swales serving to relieve pumping stations; the floodwall as an urban promenade; terraced vegetation (bio_bluffs); and, repurposed river barges (bio_barges) that adjust with current water levels. RIVER_SPACE seeks to reconnect the river with the city, creating new recreational opportunities while generating energetic and resilient spaces. While imagined as a framework that can be applied to any urbanized urban area, this project illustrates how this project could be applied to Cape Girardeau.

RIVER_SPACE seeks to reconnect the river with the city, creating new recreational opportunities while generating energetic, resilient spaces. Bringing and drawing in different parts of the community, this project serves as the connective tissue of the community. With ADA-accessible entrances and trails, RIVER_SPACE ensures universal accessibility for the entire community. Whimsical, playful elements are inserted throughout, with meandering trails guiding people down to the river. Despite having a downtown, Cape Girardeau lacks a center point to the community.

RIVER_SPACE seeks to become the natural meeting space. This is achieved through destination points along the trail, like an amphitheater at the urban heart. Numerous seating arrangements allow for places to congregate and contemplate, watching and participating in the theater of life, turning RIVER_SPACE into an urban living room. View sheds re-establish the emotional and physical connections between the city and river that Cape Girardeau was built on. This project taps into the larger issue of wildlife migration that occurs in the region, planting a diverse array of tree species that will attract habitat for birds, as well as other fauna.

During normal conditions, trails guide users down to the bio_barges. As water levels rise, so do the barges. Once at flood stage, the bio_barges are closed off to people, dedicated to refuge for animals, as well as boaters and tugboats. As bio_barges adjust their height with the current water levels, this allows evident weather to be visible. Bio_barges are planted with the various biomes found in Missouri along the Mississippi River, with bio_bluffs recreating the various biomes found along the bluffs of the River. Biomes found in the barges include deep marsh; shallow marsh; shallow, open water; floodplain forest; and, cypress marsh. Biomes found in the bluffs include shrub carr; wet meadow, floodplain forest, mesic prairie; and, upland forest.

In each river city’s quest for reinvention and attracting people and businesses, RIVER_SPACE seeks to bring new interest to the riverfront, spurring development and activity in each city, while being mindful of water management with impending climate change.