Program: Spatial and economic regeneration of the New York State canal system, comprised of the Erie Canal, the Oswego Canal, the Cayuga-Seneca Canal and the Champlain Canal.

Size: 524-mile water network

Budget: N/A

Client: New York State, Canal Corporation 

Location: New York State, USA

Design: 2017-2018

Team: NAUTA architecture & research, ARCADIS New York, New York University, HZ University Vlissingen (NL)


As a first stage of the competition, publicly available data have been collected to gather a broad understanding existing conditions along the Canal. The collected data includes: infrastructure, existing paths and trails, harbors and ports, population, ecological networks, locations of touristic activities and energy resources. A Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats analysis (SWOT) was carried out to identify areas of opportunity. Some of the findings include an abundance of spaces for tourism and recreational activities, an initiated shift towards renewable energies and a fair national and local infrastructure. The project goals can be accomplished by building upon these strengths and opportunities, as well as mitigation or preventive actions can be undertaken by analyzing threats and weaknesses.

During the implementation phase, additional information will be collected such as land use, flood risk maps, topography, surplus properties, historical sites, ecological networks, existing paths and trails. This information will be layered in an interactive map which will be used as a tool that helps in decision-making. The data will be consolidated in an opportunity index along the Canal, generated upon diverse characteristics and assets along it. Specific areas of opportunity for development and project implementation will be identified and carefully evaluated through this methodology.

Through mapping problems and opportunities, our analytical methodology allows us to proceed identifying focused areas of interventions, in which multiple phenomena occur simultaneously or singularly, making clear which actions could better enhance the specific local condition. This operation allows as well to control both scales, regional and local, in order to address different solutions and allocate them into proper planning instruments (whether regional or local). This process results into Macro and Micro strategies along the Canal, in order to achieve the project’s goals on long and short terms. Each strategy  is described below as they relate to the project goals.

Promoting the Canal System as a tourist destination and recreational asset

Bringing people to the waterfront.  New ways of interacting with the river can be implemented by taking advantage of existing conditions of the Canal. Specific examples include densifying along the river edge with sustainable and well-proportioned residential and commercial developments. Nature trails will be completed to allow for recreational activities along the Canal. Increasing access points to the Canal will promote its use for aquatic activities. The development of infrastructure can include parks and outdoor theaters providing spaces to interact and engage in leisure activities. The new developments and infrastructure along the river shall observe impacts to current topography, nature, flood risk, storm water re-directioning, etc. to ensure a long-term project life cycle. Focus of the tourism strategy will be the careful monitoring and avoidance of negative gentrification and the promotion of a healthy commercial development based on the real resources along the canal. This implies a continuous cooperation with locals and a constant evaluation of positive and negative effects of each change, with the purpose of promoting and informing wise investments.

Promoting the heritage and historic values of the Canal System

Efficient decision making through community engagement. To abide by the interests of different jurisdictions administrating the same area and the combination of national, county and local governance, a participated planning process will be implemented. It will be focused on inclusive involvement and active communication on all steps. Including all governances and collaborating with historians, will allow the development projects to be aligned to the historic values, preserve and promote the heritage of the Canal System. Participated planning and inclusive design help to ease decision making, informing all political, social and commercial parties involved. It preserves transparency in the process, budget control; it enhances team work and facilitates proactivity in the implementation of smaller projects. It helps as well to reduce the governance complexity by promoting self-initiated projects and low budget implementations, either for the long term or for provisionary actions. It is proved from international examples that participated design is worldwide becoming a practical tool to make things happen, avoiding bottleneck effects in decision making.

Other aspect to address concerning heritage preservation, is related to the rich stock of vacant buildings along the canal, most of which presenting relevant industrial quality. This becomes an important opportunity to preserve historical values, as well as reducing building costs by retrofitting and reuse operations. The volume of this phenomena is important enough to become a real chapter of our strategic framework, because it implies as well a requalification of very decadent public spaces.

Promoting the long-term financial sustainability of the Canal System and sustainable economic development along the canals and beyond

Shift to a circular economy. By promoting local engagement and employment in the cultural, tourism, agriculture, commercial markets. This strategy encourages the inclusion of the most socially fragile layer of the community, unemployed or in complex familiar situations. Promoting local employment contributes to fostering social health, wellbeing and safety. 

Enhance residential densification. Urbanization and densification are positive actions for a sustainable development, when density is adapted to the real local conditions. This means that, in order to pursue a sustainable development, it is necessary to spill program on the canal, as well as adding a reasonable stock of residential opportunities (living, lodging, health assistance, student residences), that can improve the human frequentation of the spaces, their social control, safety and livability. Specific areas will be identified where the natural context and the presence of human settlements coexist in a healthy balance. (It means that keeping communities too small is not sustainable for a long term development. It is proved that all world populations are attracted by metropolitan areas, for all the opportunities that they offer, for work, culture and lifestyle. This means that promoting a rural model is a failure and that in order to promote a sustainable long term realistic economic development of the region, it is necessary to transform the current fragile pattern of shrinking centers into a constellation of micro cities, possibly complementary in economic specialty. This is associated with a sustainable mobility system that allows those cities to work as a metropolitan network. This concept is quite wide and complex, I am aware of that, but it is key to solve any contemporary urban development. Therefore we need to explain this with practical reference to the actions to promote it, such as the addition of new inhabitants and work opportunities that can bring a reasonable demographic volume for a long term economic success and avoid possible future migrations). 

Enhance sustainable mobility

Complete the network of all mobility layers by adding a soft layer of sustainable mobility (bikes, walking paths, electric mobility, bus or shuttle etc.). Integrated to this, implement a sustainable temporary strategy for parking areas/buildings, leading to the progressive elimination of cars and switch to a TOD (traffic oriented development) on the long term. Parking facilities will be progressively transformed to new uses.

Promote the culture of waste recycling in all scales and forms. Waste is proved not only to enhance the culture of environmental preservation (global warming fight and all related matters) but most importantly to activate an upcycle of economic development that can generate new entrepreneurial opportunities and technological innovations. It is a true opportunity for economic differentiation and growth. (Waste is not only meant anymore in the conventional cycle of lower use – from paper to toilet paper for example- but in a new cycle that generates higher quality products. Think for instance about the Nike shoes produced with plastic bags found in the ocean and similar cases. This is a true future economic field of investment and leadership.