The Fluid City//Kelly McCain

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Course Description

As a physical edge, urban waterfronts have historically provided both margins and thresholds between cities and nature. As the foundation of transportation, trade, and industry, America’s ports led to growth and prosperity along its waterways. However, as further settlement and industrialization spread through the United States along with the birth of the rail system, trade shifted from water to land. Since the mid-1970s, cities waterfronts have been re-evaluated and identified as prospects for urban renewal after years of neglect. Often attempts to re-imagine the urban waterfront in the twenty first century lead to one of two strategies: demolition or preservation. These approaches employ either a “carnivalesque” or “mummified” attraction for the interim tourist that further disconnects the city from the water. Thus, urban waterfronts that once served as the catalyst of growth and source of identity of America’s cities are now in a state of jeopardy as gentrification erases their fabric and history. In response, this thesis rejects the notion of large-scale waterfront redevelopment. In order for the future adaptation of American ports to be viable and authentic, they must first be appreciated and understood.

This thesis proposes to explore the potential of layering time, terrain, and infrastructure to reveal the intrinsic quality of the post-industrial waterfront of Erie, Pennsylvania and its unique position within the natural harbor of Presque Isle. Through a deep analysis of the connection between the port of Erie, its developed city, and the temporal landscape beyond, this thesis will catalyze the cities existing cultural core and utilize it as the anchor of a continuous seam through the waterfronts edge. It will do so through the development of a new public promenade from the city to State Street pier, in the form of a series of activated public spaces that will both celebrate and engage the last remaining relics of the ports memory. By utilizing the integration of urban design, landscape design, and architecture to both analyze and engage the layers of place, this urban waterfront intervention activates and reconnects the city of Erie to the water and the temporal landscape beyond.