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The CityDeck in Green Bay, Wisconsin by Stoss Landscape Urbanism
October 15th, 2011 by Sanjay Gangal
Article source: Stoss Landscape Urbanism
The CityDeck is the heart of a multi-phase redevelopment project along Green Bay’s Fox River. The project aims to allow for significantly increased access to the river and to diversify social and ecological life along it.
EXISTING CONDITIONS + CHALLENGES
The site is a 2-acre strip of land, typically measuring 50 to 60 feet wide, that runs along the edge of the Fox River in downtown Green Bay. It is about one-quarter-mile in length and is situated between two bridges that cross the river. At the project’s beginning, adjacent parcels were empty, abandoned (a large yellow warehouse), or in use as parking lots. Nearby buildings turned their back on the riverfront. Unsurprisingly, there was little social or civic life here, and no reason to visit; the elevated walk along existing bulkhead walls prevented any direct access down to the river—as well as up to the city from boats.
In terms of infrastructural constraints, the site was formerly home to rail lines and was marked by a number low-level contamination spots. The bulkhead wall was constructed in segments in at least six different stages; each of the walls has a distinct tieback and foundation system, which any new design would need to negotiate. The site also has a high groundwater table and is laced with major city utilities. The river typically freezes during the winter and is subject to surface ice flows. In addition to any new open space programs, the site was required to accommodate fire truck access along it, a challenge in such a narrow strip of land.
To address these challenges, the design team tasked itself with identifying broader urban design strategies for new open space and development along the river. These financial and programmatic ideas would positively transform about six square blocks of urban fabric and would reach back into downtown. The team sought to reconnect city streets and create new development parcels where symbiotic programmatic relationships between proposed buildings and open space would reinforce one another. Phase one of The CityDeck grew out of these urban design studies and strategies, which are now being developed in parallel with the open space. All was developed in close collaboration with City leaders and various local, regional, state, and federal regulatory agencies—as well as with the broader public.
As conceived, Phase 1 of The CityDeck negotiates an infrastructural landscape of physical, environmental, and code complexities, and responds to the need for social and economic re-activation. The project establishes a new downtown waterfront; a new front porch for the city on the region’s most precious environmental and economic resource, the Fox River.
The project starts as a simple boardwalk deployed at the edge of city and river. The highly articulated wooden boardwalk undulates, folding in response to technical, code, and programmatic issues. At the scale of the human body, these folds create diverse seats, benches, and chaise lounges that allow for choice and flexibility: some are close to the water, others further back but overlooking it; some are clustered and assembled in long rows, while others are a bit more solitary. The idea was to give people many choices about where to sit, depending on their own desires, their body type, their mood, and their attraction to various ambient light, heat, or weather conditions.
The wood surface folds up and over the existing bulkhead wall at the north end of the site, rising to form a dramatic overlook perched above the river on piles—a great place to watch passing lake barges and small recreational boats. At the city edge, the surface folds up again, affording adjacent buildings required protection from flooding and creating retail and dining terraces, seating, and communal chaise lounges looking out to the water. A flexible upland plaza floats atop fill between the perched terraces and the undulating boardwalk, creating a free-zone to be inhabited by festivals, vendors, and spontaneous activity; it doubles as an informal amphitheater for performances and is marked at its southern end by an interactive play fountain.
Lawns are located at both north and south ends of the project, allowing for casual play and picnicking. Groves and scatterings of gingkos, elms, and coffeetrees offer shade in the hot summer sun and reduce adjacent buildings’ cooling loads. During football season, the trees turn bright yellow, half of the green and gold color scheme of the city’s beloved Green Bay Packers football team; the green is manifest in custom-designed concrete pavers (with a green aggregate), shaped to resemble fish scales and perforated to allow for stormwater infiltration.
Much of the site is rendered porous, with infiltration channels integrated along terrace seams; permeable pavers throughout; and areas of lawn and planting. These strategies allow for re-charge of groundwater, reduce inputs to the city’s aging infrastructure, and feed extended underground structural planting areas for trees. This integrated irrigation strategy allows for a greater number of trees than would typically be possible in a largely paved setting and, over time, cooling the waterfront and the adjacent buildings. The boardwalk and benches are constructed from sustainably harvested ipe wood, which has an extraordinarily long lifespan and reduced maintenance requirements. And, by developing design strategies that allow surfaces to move up and over the bulkhead walls—rather than cutting them down — we were able to save millions of dollars and essentially “recycle” these walls in place.
The City and various non-profit civic organizations have taken to programming the space almost yearround. St Patrick’s Day and Christmas Parades end or pass by here; the marathon traverses the length of the project. “Fridays on the Fox” (summer entertainment and music events), “Dine on the Deck” (regular Wednesday noon lunch events), Irish dance troupes, dueling pianos, at least one wedding, and an Elvis sighting are among the activities that continue to attract crowds.
The CityDeck counted more than 100,000 visitors in 2010. Future phases of the project are currently underway and will include two new large over-water structures (amphitheater steps and stage, and an urban beach), as well as docks for boaters. Since concept design, a new apartment building with ground-floor retail space, a new condominium, and a new bank headquarters and office building have been constructed to reinforce the physical and programmatic goals of The CityDeck. At the center of the adjacent site, a mixed use project, with apartments, offices, a restaurant, cafes, and a new children’s museum, is now under construction
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