Sunday, 19 June 2016

Disastrous dyke design

Last Monday, June 13, a public information centre took place regarding the plans for the West London Dyke Replacement – Phase 3.  (Disappointingly, the files for the latest information centre are not available on the City's Web site.) The display boards showed plans for a replacement of the existing dyke between Rogers Avenue to Carrothers Avenue, an uninspired design that would extend the current sheer cliff constructed in 2007 from the forks of the Thames to Rogers Avenue.

The area of the dyke to be replaced, running from Rogers Avenue north to Carrothers Avenue. (April 2014 aerial photo from City of London)

While many (yours truly included) enjoy the pathway portion of the 2007 reconstruction as a means of recreation and transportation, there is a significant lack of shade (i.e. no trees) and no means of interacting with the river, something that Londoners over and over again have said is a top priority for rejuvenating Askunesippi (AKA "the Thames").  It very much conveys an oudated mindset of constructing the built environment as a "concrete jungle" by dividing humans from the natural environment.  Even the guardrail – aside from being ugly as sin – with its prison-like bars evokes the sensation of separation, as if the river was an exhibit at the zoo.

A view of the West London dyke, with the 2007 replacement visible in upper-right. (February 9, 2013)

As seen in the photo above from 2013, the sloped dyke almost has an amphitheatre vibe to it.  Instead of replacing this slope with a vertical wall, we need an imaginative concept that would allow for citizens to transcend the dyke, perhaps with a stepped design to allow people to walk and sit along the river in a safe and enjoyable manner.  What would it be like to have a concert or play happening on the banks of the river in Harris Park, with the audience taking it in while seated in a stadium-like setting across the water? Sounds like an ideal setting to me!  Isn't that what the "Back to the River" project is supposed to be all about?

Don't get me wrong: the design isn't a complete failure.  I do like the aspects of having a sitting area at the top of the dyke situated at the end of each of the beautiful dead-end streets in Blackfriars akin to the one at the terminus of Rogers Avenue.  The displays also included a variety of options for guardrail that don't include prison bars.

A view of the West London dyke, with the 2007 replacement visible in upper-right and existing guardrail along the right of the photo. (July 8, 2012)

In addition to the shortcomings of the dyke design, current plans include taking down at large number of trees, including some majestic cottonwoods that primarily thrive along rivers and other damp areas.  Removing this canopy coverage is hugely detrimental to the pathway along the river.  While one can understand having to remove the myraid of trees that have grown in the dyke (although it could be argued that trees will hold up a slope better than any man-made construct), removing any along the path will take decades to replace.  Trees do not grow overnight, and need to have their value fully considered and not simply viewed as an obstacle to construction.

Finally, the existing guardrail allows folks to view the river with ease, and also to get up and down the dyke without hiking for kilometres to the nearest access point.  I fully encourage reusing the current style of guardrail, and even better would be to use the current materials: they have a charm unlike any other spot along the pathway and mesh wonderfully with the culturally significant Blackfriars Bridge.

Comments are being accepted until Wednesday, June 22nd, 2016.  This construction project won't only affect the denizens of the Blackfriars neighbourhood, but the population at large: we have a chance to make something beautiful out of something so mundane. Be sure to get comments in by sending to:
Cameron Gorrie, P.Eng, Stantec Consulting Ltd.
600-171 Queens Avenue, London, N6A 5J7