Open Shore is a complex project that addresses many different topics in an effort of providing solutions to several challenges that the city of West Palm Beach shares with many other cities. For this reason, we decided to present more in detail our project in a series of 3 posts dedicated to the three main points of the proposal: #1, Strategy to trigger the Change; #2, Waterfront: celebrating unexpected public space; #3, Banyan Hub: a city into a building.
Before going into detail of our proposal, it would be useful to introduce the context of the city of West Palm Beach.
As reported in the Shore to Core Competition Website, West Palm Beach is a young city that is growing quickly. Many associate this region with a large retirement community, but there is also a growing population of people in their 20s and 30s, as well as large Black and Hispanic populations. The city’s downtown and 10-mile waterfront present an opportunity to develop new amenities that reflect the city’s emerging populations, and design is a crucial tool for tackling these evolving needs.
The design competition asks: How can we reimagine our downtowns to make them more engaging and vibrant? How can cities collect information that informs future adaptation and growth? How can we facilitate social interaction among diverse groups? How can the built environment improve residents’ physical health, mental health, and social capital?
Today we present the first post of the series, starting the narration of this exciting experience. This first chapter introduces the previous analysis and the general strategies that informed the design of the project areas.
Vision: Looking into the Future
Our vision for West Palm Beach envisages.. A city accessible and open to citizens and tourists alike. A city bustling with diverse people and activities all year long. A city open to the lagoon, with a downtown full of unique attractive places and innovative urban experiences. A healthy and comfortable city suitable for everyone, with spaces for children and elders, spaces to play, work, rest, eat, meditate or meet with other people. A city people want to live in and visit.
Opportunities, Strategies, Outcomes
The very first step in the elaboration of the Open Shore project has been the analysis of local context in order to define the existing opportunities in West Palm Beach. We analyzed 6 key aspects to deeply understand the challenges of the project from different perspectives: society, climate, health, mobility, sites and activity.
Here follows a video summarizing the key findings that emerged from this preliminary urban analysis that have been crucial in the definition of the design strategies and outcomes.
How to Trigger The Change?
Our approach to the project implies understanding West Palm Beach as a whole from the urban, cultural, social, economic and environmental perspectives. We analyzed available information as well as carried out our own surveys and interviews to identify relevant issues and areas of opportunity regarding new urban experiences.
The waterfront area is where the city shows its great potential, but also its needs for improvement: for better connection with the rest of the city; for balance against seasonal fluctuations; for social inclusiveness and diversity; for an expansion in urban density to achieve sustainable levels of activity; for resiliency against climatic, social or economic impacts; for improvement accessibility and public spaces of comfort; for innovation in combining and addressing all of these aspects in the best possible way.
These challenges require a holistic approach. We can trigger powerful transformations in the city by rethinking three key areas of West Palm Beach: the waterfront, the alleyways and the Banyan building. In parallel, a transversal strategy touches focal points allowing to reactivate the city.
Mobility and Accessibility
+ Connecting the Downtown with the Suburbs
The proposed design should be inclusive and inviting, enabling anyone to be part of the new downtown urban life and events. Downtown itself would be positively affected by, for example, younger visitors or residents, balancing the current population pyramid.
+ Upgrading Public Transit and Sustainable Mobility
Mobility is key to transforming downtown WPB into a more urban, efficient and friendly environment. First of all, it is necessary to improve public transport to allow people from the suburbs to reach downtown without the need of a car.
+ Optimizing the Management of Existing Parking Lots
Downtown WPB can count on numerous public and private parking lots and parking buildings all relatively close to one other and to the waterfront. There seems to be a lack of a comprehensive management system to allow citizens to find the closest free spot to their final destination. This would also free up space for more attractive and profitable uses like sports, events, etc. in places currently used only as part time parking lots.
+ Increasing Walkability for a More Lively Center
Improving the walkability of a place makes it better in terms of accessibility, inclusiveness, attractiveness, safety and comfort. A walkable downtown will be an improved downtown, attracting people to live, work and enjoy.
+ Introducing an Ecological Perspective in Existing Parking Lots
The extensive area covered with asphalt or concrete is one of the main ecological problems in a low density yet highly infrastructured city. Using landscaping techniques it is possible to progressively increase the permeable area while at the same time treating the runoff water. Parking lots also offer a great opportunity for including more vegetation and improving the climate and comfort in the urban fabric around them.
+ Increasing Street Permeability and Improving Stormwater Management
WPB streets are part of the city’s mobility system, but also play a fundamental role in the water management system: They serve to collect rainwater and direct it to the lagoon. Improvements in the permeability of the streets have a great impact in the water cycle.
+ Enhancing Lagoon Metabolism
Being a coastal city, West Palm Beach has an impact on the quality of the water of the Lake Worth Lagoon. It is necessary to avoid pollutants reach the lagoon in order to maintain and improve its natural biological state. Improving the water cycle, monitoring the pollutant loading, and encouraging on-site water treatment policies, are key factors to bringing people and activities to the water.
+ Adapting to Sea Level Rise with a Global Resilience Strategy
The proposal for the waterfront addresses the probable rise of the water level in the Lake Worth Lagoon over the next 100 years. Also wider and more effective strategy is necessary: more conscious urban planning is recommended in order to avoid new construction in low lands and encourage operations in safer areas.
+ Introducing Functional Mix and Managing a Wider Urban Development
The extensive low density residential areas require an intense city center. The variety of uses will increase the “urbanity” and the level of economical resilience of the city, attracting new investments and boosting the local economy.
+ Boosting Year Round Activity and Reducing Seasonal Fluctuations
Two main factors influence the seasonal fluctuations of WPB economy and urban life: tourism and the climate itself. Wide fluctuations have a big economic and social impact. The first one can be approached by creating a more active city center. This will attract more permanent citizens and users whose presence in the city will not depend on touristic seasons. And the second can be addressed by reducing the impact of adverse climatic conditions.
+ Generating a Long Term Vision to Foster Urban Catalyzers
It is necessary to promote and encourage the development of dense, mixed use buildings similar to the Banyan Hub, capable of generating innovation by means of interaction between diverse users and activities in fruitful proximity.
+ Adopting an Ecological and Pedagogical Approach
The transformation of WPB can become a national and international example. A pilot experience for attracting visitors and future citizens to a city, and a case study on how to create unique urban waterscapes combining nature and technology.
Resiliency, Adaptation and Re naturalization for West Palm Beach
The waterfront is designed taking into account the estimation of the sea level rising by 3 feet over the next century. By working with topography it is possible to build a waterfront that remains usable regardless of the sea level, even in the case of very high tides. Furthermore, the variations make the space evolve over time and become more interesting: enlarging and shrinking depending on the time, the day and the year; hiding or showing parts of the topography; creating surprising interactions, etc. In terms of resiliency, another important factor is the preparation of all the urban elements for extreme weather events like storms and hurricanes.
All of the structures are designed to resist strong winds by means of their shape and flexible behavior. They are also conceived to be removable in case of need and to allow a rapid and affordable reparation in the event of damage.
While being a man-made extension of the city, an artificial ecosystem, the whole waterfront works together with the natural processes in a myriad of different ways.
It takes into account the water cycle, finding ways of absorbing, filtering, reusing and bringing rain water back to the lagoon and to the sea. It lets the water flow into urban space, and urban space flow into the water.
As part of a process of ‘renaturalization’, the waterfront explores many possible relations between construction and vegetation, letting it grow on top of structures, under artificial covers, in vertical surfaces or in hybrid, permeable pavements.
It blurs the limits between an urban space and a natural one, creating many opportunities to experience one, the other, or both at the same time.
A Constant Digital-Physical Interaction
The new waterfront of WPB will become one of the first truly augmented public spaces in the world. People will be able to interact with the physical space in innovative ways, either from their own mobile devices or through simple interfaces included among the urban elements, using off-the-shelf technologies like sensors, controllers, standard connection protocols, mobile applications and other common components arranged in new ways.
Enabling a digital layer for information, control and communication opens a wide new range of possibilities for responsive and actively controlled public spaces. This can be accomplished, not by building an automated ‘smart city’, but by empowering a generation of conscious ‘smart citizens’ that use their digital data and tools to adapt their urban environment to their own needs.
In the next post, we will introduce more in detail the strategy from “how” to “what”, describing the design features aiming to reactivate two key places of West Palm Beach: the Waterfront and the Passageways. Stay tuned!
PS. Here we share again the full document if you want to read more about our Open Shore proposal.