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Richmond Canal Walk

Landscape Performance Benefits

Environmental

  • Eliminates sewer discharges, reducing overflows from an average of 32 occurrences a year to less than once a year, by installing a combined sewer overflow interceptor in the canal bed.

Social

  • Draws an average of 19,000 riders annually on the canal boat tours and chartered cruises. Remains an attraction for visitors to Richmond, with the majority interviewed visiting from out of town.

Economic

  • Encouraged private sector development, nearly tripling the total assessed value of the Riverfront District from $242 million in 1998 to $722 million as of 2011.
  • Catalyzed the construction of 1.8 million sf of mixed use space, including 750,000 sf of commercial space, nearly 200,000 sf of retail/restaurant /entertainment space, and 328 condos. This added 2,570 employees to the district.
  • Continues to attract new developments through the downturn in the housing market, with $40 million of additional investment planned over 2011-2014.
  • Saved an estimated $33,500 in material costs by recovering and reusing more than 550 tons of historic canal stone along the 2,240 linear feet of coping.

At a Glance

  • Designer

    WRT | Wallace, Roberts and Todd, LLC

  • Project Type

    Park/Open space
    Stormwater management facility
    Waterfront redevelopment

  • Former Land Use

    Greyfield

  • Location

    South 14th Street
    Richmond, Virginia 23219

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  • Climate Zone

    Humid subtropical

  • Size

    1.25 mile corridor and 32-acre redevelopment district

  • Budget

    $26 million - Canal Walk and Canal Restoration; $20 million - Combined sewer overflow pipe installation; $6 million - Donated private land

  • Completion Date

    1999

The Richmond Canal Walk is an open space system, canal restoration and development district on the James River. It was constructed in conjunction with the Department of Public Utilities Combined Sewer Overflow project after installation resulted in the unearthing of a historic canal. The plan and design created a public landscape corridor, unifying a fragmented corner of downtown and spurring significant private development. Through the adaptive reuse of the James River’s industrial infrastructure, visitors are reconnected to the Richmond Waterfront.

  • Restored historic canals which once formed the spine of early 19th century Richmond history and commerce, now provide a centerpiece for the 32-acre redevelopment district.
  • A 1.3-mile, 8-ft wide combined sewer overflow interceptor diverts raw sewage from the James River during times of heavy rain.
  • The open space corridor provides a recreational link between Richmond bike infrastructure and the Virginia Capital Bike Trail.
  • The master plan called for preservation and adaptive re-use of key adjacent buildings with historic character.
  • The canal attracts people to the neighborhood, helping support a range of new commercial establishments and restaurants, with the canal boat tours as a feature attraction.
  • The stone coping at the canal edge is made of re-used stones from the walls of the James River and Kanawha Canal that were stockpiled during the abandonment and re-grading.

Challenge

Like many inner-city redevelopment projects, the Richmond Riverfront District had to overcome an unattractive image and decades of use as an industrial corridor that had outlived its heyday. The site was criss-crossed by interstate and rail infrastructure. Furthermore, the two major features of the district, the James River and the historic James River and Kanawha Canal, were invisible: the River locked behind a 15-ft high floodwall, and the canal filled and buried beneath paving and structures.

Solution

Having been identified as an obstacle to downtown Richmond’s success, the district was slated for improvements when the city targeted the path of the buried historic canal corridor for a combined sewer overflow interceptor. Instead of backfilling over the pipe, however, the canal was restored with pedestrian and vehicular access, threading together the riverfront, while maintaining flood control, energy distribution, highway and rail traffic. In this way the city could fulfill three additional goals with the CSO project: recapture its canal heritage, provide new open space, and create a new real estate address.

  • Installing the EPA-mandated combined sewer overflow interceptor in the canal beds cost $20 million alone, but was unlikely to add any further benefits to the Riverfront District. By restoring the Haxall and Kanawha Canals, and unifying the riverfront through the Canal Walk, an additional investment of $26 million encouraged redevelopment in the district, increasing the total assessed value by $480 million over the next 13 years.
  • Conventional infrastructure projects rarely include additional landscape improvements, but the canal restoration would not have happened without the CSO interceptor and the district would not have been revitalized without the Canal Walk. This project makes the case that a multi-tasking municipal project can increase the economic sustainability of a community by investing in the public landscape.
  • The project clearly addresses the macro sustainability issues of metropolitan-scaled water quality protection, urban redevelopment and livability, however, it was developed prior to more enlightened municipal and private sector attitudes towards sustainable practices. If the project were developed today, the design would likely integrate the building and site systems further, with a wide-ranging program of smaller sustainable features in addition to the reuse of canal stone.
  • Although the project was not designed to address the issue of the floodwall blocking river access and views, hindsight might recommend that the City petition the Corps of Engineers for some form of strategically positioned, larger opening that could be sealed in time of flood. River access has proven incredibly popular with the relatively recent opening of the adjacent pipeline walk, and additional access points would be advantageous.
  • Once constructed, landscape projects require constant maintenance, events, marketing and promotion to maximize their benefit. In Richmond, these functions are primarily funded through business improvement districts, so most these needs are covered with annual revenue. However, there are also ongoing capital improvements that are necessary for the continued success of the Riverfront District. The municipality should include these in their ongoing capital improvement budgets.

Project Team

Client: Venture Richmond (formerly Richmond Riverfront Development Corporation)
Prime Engineering Consultant: Greeley & Hansen
Landscape Architect: WRT | Wallace, Roberts and Todd, LLC
Exhibit Design: Ralph Applebaum Associates, Inc.
Stakeholders: Ethyl Corporation, National Park Service, Dominion Power, Norfolk & Southern Railroad, CSX Railroad, Virginia Department of Transportation, Army Corps of Engineers, Reynolds Aluminum

Role of the Landscape Architect

WRT prepared a development plan balancing stakeholder priorities and designed all public landscape improvements along the canal walk.

Case Study Prepared By

Research Fellow: Kristina Hill, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Virginia
Research Assistant: Michael Geffel, MLA Candidate, University of Virginia
Aug 2011

Topics

Stormwater management, Water quality, Reused/recycled materials, Recreational & social value, Property values, Job creation, Economic development, Blackwater treatment, Reused/recycled materials, Trail, Placemaking, Revitalization

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