Rebuilding derelict urban environments can improve commerce and cultural exchange while simultaneously preserving the distinct feel of a neighborhood.
Across the world, many developers are running projects aimed at counteracting urban decay. As cities struggle to find available land for new development projects, there is a counter-movement that is reinvigorating existing urban infrastructure and buildings that in many cases have been neglected and fallen into disuse.
Winka Dubbeldam, celebrated architect and principal of Archi-Tectonics, recently lent her expertise to a crowdsourced plan to revitalize Bogota, Colombia called MyIdealCity. She believes that the future of urban planning is in derelict revival. In her words:
Re-densification of our city centers and promoting residential use, can be stimulated by promoting culture, especially to bottom up culture, as a direct expression of society…And a way to start a new social-economic trend.
A celebrated example of this trend is The High Line park in New York City. The project is a linear park built on a section of the former elevated New York Central Railroad Spur called the West Side Line. The abandoned railway has been redesigned and planted as an aerial greenway. In addition to providing additional green space for residents and tourists alike, the recycling of railway into an urban park has spurred real estate development in the neighborhoods which lie along the Line. James Corner, landscape architect and lead designer behind the project, believes that reviving neglected spaces can energize urban landscapes:
The High Line had its own mythology long before we came along. In particular, the ‘Friends of the High Line’ were instrumental in creating this distinct image around the High Line – they established an aura that projected an idea that this was in fact a post-industrial artifact maintaining a sense of melancholy and other-worldliness in a city context that, by contrast, was ever-evolving and modernizing. But to take that detail and to actually instill and transform it into a public landscape where people can stroll, sit and enjoy amazing vistas across the city was too great an opportunity to pass up.
PSFK reached out and spoke to Robert Hammond, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Friends of the High Line, to get his thoughts on the implications of park:
I’ve never thought of it as just a park. To me, it is more like an ever-changing cultural institution. In the not-too-distant future, the third and final section of the High Line will open to visitors, but I don’t think that will be the end of the story. The High Line’s horticulture, design, art, programs, and community outreach will evolve, with new innovations and surprises each season. I bet in just five years, Friends of the High Line will be dreaming up new initiatives and ideas that we can’t even imagine right now. To me, the High Line was never just about the plants and the design; it has always been about the people. A diverse community of people.
Another example of the derelict revival trend is the Madrid Río park in Spain which augments a formerly neglected area in the center of Spain’s capital. Its design buries what was an intrusive highway while simultaneously connecting formerly disjointed neighborhoods to Madrid’s city center.
The reimagination and rehabilitation, or ‘derelict revival’, of these decaying urban environments enhances existing structures and makes them suitable for public use, while retaining notes pointing to the original character of the past. These modern hybrids can serve as burgeoning civic centers, bringing new opportunities for commerce and cultural exchange.
Over the next 6 months, PSFK will be covering urban trends that are changing the cities we live in at psfk.com/my-ideal-city. Contribute your ideas at the MyIdealCity site.