Fluvial Urbanism

Emerging from John Hoal's professional work along the coastline of Durban, South Africa and subsequently solidified through his design work in the MID (Mississippi River watershed), is our commitment to investigate, develop and propose new design strategies and projects for “living with water” and the concept of FLUVIAL URBANISM. 

We believe this concept of FLUVIAL URBANISM is critical for the future of cities globally since we know that by 2050 there will be an additional 2.6 billion urban residents for a total of approximately 9 billion, making this forthcoming period one of the most rapid periods of urban growth in human history. All these urban dwellers will need WATER and since no-one can survive without water, the need to provide clean and safe drinking water is without doubt one – if not THE most significant challenges for urbanization over the next 40 years. We know today that 150 million people live in cities with perennial water shortage, which will increase to 1.0 billion people by 2050. This becomes more challenging when you add that 890 million people live in cities with seasonal water shortage and by 2050 this increases to 3.1 billion urban residents. When you integrate the two forms of water shortages by 2050 over 4.0 billion urban residents will be impacted by some water related shortages and that is about 50% of all projected urban residents, so there is no denying the issue.

The crisis looms larger when the water needs for social and economic development are included since history shows that as places urbanize and develop socially and economically there is typically an increase per-capita water use. This is because water is used for most of the other forms of production. For instance the water, energy and food systems are inextricably linked and that actions in one system more often than not have impacts in the other and the provision of energy and food for urban areas is instrumental for community development. Thus, water is critical for the social and economic development of society and this can be seen in that 22% ($4.8 trillion) of all global economic activity is developed in 25% of the world’s major cities which are currently water stressed.  Stated differently, $4.8 trillion in global economic activity directly or indirectly depends on the supply of 167 billion liters of water per day to 25% of the largest cities in the world.

Early career projects for the re-building of the major tourist beach of Durban exposed John Hoal to the needs of coastal cities, flooding and extreme weather. Then soon after his appointment as Director of Urban Design for the City of St. Louis, the 1993 Great Flood occurred. Given both the flooding of the Mississippi River and the River Des Peres with its profound impact on the City of St. Louis, Hoal spent a number of years on the ground rebuilding the neighborhoods of St. Louis, as well as many of the parks including Forest Park, Carondelet Park, and Riverfront Park and Trail. Simultaneously, Hoal was developing and implementing the first-ever and National Award winning (by the American Planning Association and the Congress for the New Urbanism) regional Conservation, Heritage and Recreation Corridor Master Plan focused along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, the historical and ecological heart, and geographical determinant of the St. Louis. The master plan, developed with significant input from the community, initiated a coordinated effort to protect habitat, improve water quality, increase outdoor recreational opportunities and reconnect our region to its river heritage. Essential to all this work was the integration of architecture and urban design studios focused on the Mississippi River watershed, the challenges of water supply in the Midwest, and how we could re-think the design of the St. Louis region and selected towns based upon watersheds and the need for clean water.  Much of this research work was instrumental in the region’s Water Council, a committee for whom Hoal was a founding member developed to promote watershed planning. 

All this work in the St. Louis region was instrumental in H3 Studio being selected as one of the five planning and design firms to complete the post-Katrina Recovery Plan for New Orleans. Following the devastation of Hurricane’s Katrina and Rita, the Greater New Orleans Foundation and the City of New Orleans engaged residents in a planning process to envision a new sustainable future for their communities. To this end, our engagement was beyond just the recovery planning; Hoal spent the next 5 years working with communities to plan the rebuilding of various neighborhoods throughout the City of New Orleans. 

All of the above-mentioned has furthered Hoal's commitment to assist communities to “live with the water” and to continue to develop the ideas of fluvial urbanism.  Hoal has continued developing the research and the concepts of fluvial urbanism in most of the action-research urban design studios for the School of Architecture including: three studios in New Orleans (the Lower Ninth Ward, Central City, and Downtown); five studios in Tijuana; two studios in Mexico City, which investigate water related issues and how Mexico City is sinking due to ground water extraction: and more recently four studios in Shanghai, the world’s largest deltaic city.

Driven both by Hoal's New Orleans Post-Katrina and Rita design work and the action_research work with students in Tijuana, Mexico City and Shanghai, H3 Studio's work and research has increasingly taken on the issues of climate change and in particular how cities will have to adapt to include issues of flooding, drought and other implications of climate change. H3 Studio's work for St. Louis’ first-ever Regional Sustainability Plan and the City of St. Louis’ Sustainability Plan included development of policies and strategies to mitigate and adapt to climate change. At a much smaller scale, the Neighborhood Sustainability Plan for Parkview Gardens in University City investigates the possibility of a water-neutral neighborhood. 

Developing out of our work on the St. Louis Regional Sustainability Plan and in New Orleans, Assistant Professor Hoeferlin, Dale Morris, the Senior Economist at the Royal Netherlands Embassy in Washington, D.C. and John Hoal have developed a community-based on-going research program focused on St. Louis entitled MISI-ZIIBI: Living with the Great Rivers: Climate Adaptation Strategies in the Midwest River Basins

This program is designed to be a series of multi-disciplinary workshops that investigate spatial design strategies for innovative, integrated approaches for climate adaptation along the Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois Rivers in the Midwest. They have completed the first two workshops. The first engaged the St. Louis community together with a design team comprised of local and international experts from the Netherlands and the outcomes were a broad-based set of proto-typological, multi-scaled planning scenarios worthy of more detailed study and intended to be transferable to other Midwest city regions.

The second was a more detailed science-based workshop engaging Earth Economics in calculating the value of the ecological services provided by the design scenarios developed in the first workshop. Based upon these two workshops, Assistant Professor Derek Hoeferlin, Frederik Huthoff, a hydrologist with of HKV in the Netherlands and Hoal have received an ICARES Grant to continue this work and develop an evidence-based design methodology for the research work.

This entire body of work and research has resulted in the winning of an international design competition entitled Changing Course: Navigating the future of the Lower Mississippi River Delta, an opportunity to restore the Mississippi River’s natural deltaic functions (land building and sustainable habitats).  Out of the 23 teams who applied, three teams have been selected to develop design proposals and H3 Studio will lead a team of international and local experts in a six month design charrette to develop ideas that demonstrate how, over time, the Mississippi River’s water and sediment can be used to maximize the rebuilding of delta wetlands in areas adjacent to the Mississippi River below New Orleans, while continuing to meet the needs of navigation, flood protection, and coastal industries and communities. 

Over the last century, nearly 1,900 square miles of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands have vanished. Every hour, a football field–sized swath of land drowns in the Gulf’s advancing tides. At this rate, by 2100, Louisiana’s protective coast will be gone, endangering New Orleans and storied communities across the Delta region, as well as a national economy dependent upon the Mississippi River for shipping, and placing in harm’s way the region’s abundant natural resources and energy infrastructure. This is not only a local issue but an internationally significant issue since many of the deltaic cities – such as Shanghai – are in a similar situation. Thus, the design proposals we will be developing will have significance internationally and will continue my development of the concepts of FLUVIAL URBANISM.