The Urban Roles of a Semi-Dry River: Chihuahua & Its Chuvuscar River

Humanity delights in and finds inspiration at waterfront settings, and often chooses to celebrate or express civic ambitions at water\’s edge. Imagine the Sydney Opera House, or the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, or even Cleveland\’s Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame, not juxtaposed against that city\’s body of water? The London Eye, London\’s majestic Ferris wheel, actually sits in the Thames. Much of contemporary Chicago\’s identity and self-image, not to mention wealth, comes from its spectacular 20-mile long facade stretching along Lake Michigan. Where else but along their portion of the mighty Mississippi would the citizens of St. Louis construct their monumental Gateway-to-the-West? In their post-industrial eras in particular, cities worldwide are rediscovering the pleasures — and competitive advantages — of direct adjacency to bodies of water. But what if the local river is a mere trickle for much of the year, yet prone to seasonal flooding? What if the climate is semiarid? What if the river\’s banks have been canalized and largely abandoned? What if a city has for years treated its river less as an amenity and more as a nuisance? What if the city is growing rapidly, yet still relatively poor in terms of modern infrastructure and amenities, but wishes to grow in a more sustainable way relative to its desert environment? What roles should its river play? The relationship of the Chuvuscar River to its host City of Chihuahua in North Central Mexico is the subject of this studio. The studio will develop strategies both at the citywide scale for better reconnecting Chihuahua to its river, and at individual sites requiring specific programmatic intervention and specific design solutions. The studio and a studio field trip to Mexico is being sponsored by the City of Chihuahua, whose leadership asks: how can the city take greater advantage of its river environment, both to achieve wiser environmental stewardship and to improve its citizens\’ quality of life? Historically cities needed to be near a body of water for transportation, sustenance and trade, but also to protect their citizens from those same bodies of water from floods and, not uncommonly, secure approach routes of potential enemies. As modern societies continue their millennial shift to service and lifestyle-based economies the potential civic \’uses\’ of rivers change. The studio will explore potential uses and how to achieve these. The Studio is open to, indeed welcomes, the participation of, students from each of the disciplines at the GSD: architecture, landscape architecture, urban design and planning.