1. Project Statement
Landscape as Catalyst: Kaban Lakes Waterfront Revitalization
The Kaban Lakes Waterfront Revitalization Plan envisions a continuous green infrastructure along three oxbow lakes of the Volga River which revitalizes the ecological and cultural heritage of the Russian City of Kazan through transforming water into a new living legacy. The project envisions landscape as a sponge-like multilayer and multicellular resilient system, which regulates hydrological environment, restores habitats of the Kaban Lake, and provides numerous opportunities to weave new public realms into the city and can finally function as the common denominator of nature, culture and transport developments.
2. Objective and Challenge
Kazan, the ancient capital of the Republic of Tatarstan in Russia, lies at the confluence of the Volga and Kazanka Rivers and fully embraces the Kaban Lakes, a series of interconnected oxbow lakes of the Volga with a combined water area of about 186 ha (460 acres). The three major lakes of Kaban, called Lower, Middle and Upper Kaban respectively, are connected with the Kazanka River by the Bulak Canal. They can be viewed as part of the city’s natural heritage where the impact on the lakes reflects one-thousand-years of urban expansion. This history of development had a reoccurring theme of environmental destruction of the lake as a byproduct of the city’s urban and industrial development. The climax of this destruction came during the Soviet-era industrial boom in the 1970s resulting in the extinction of almost all the lake’s aquatic lives. After 30 years of haphazard engineering attempts to reverse the ecological damage, the lakes have gradually recovered slightly, but still remains a public wasteland because of remaining pollutants and inaccessible waterfront. A regional strategic plan was essential to successfully revitalizing the lake. The city’s plan focused on reconfiguring the Lakes’ 1,138 ha （2812acre） influence area with the focus on renovating the waterfront to release its full potential to create an ecologically and culturally resilient city. This project faces multiple challenges:
1 ）Degradation of Ecological Assets:
First, the whole ecological environment of the area has deteriorated due to 800 years of human settlement and 200 years of rapid industrial development. Wildlife habitats have suffered from pollution and wildlife migration corridors are obstructed by urban development. Second, the Lower and Middle Kaban Lakes are polluted with sulfates, copper, phenols, nitrates, and phosphates, resulting in them being ranked as Class V and Class IV, which are unqualified for direct human contact according to Russian Regulations. Third, the city faces severe flood risks because of the construction of Kubyshev Reservoir on Volga River. The reservoir isolates the lakes with eleven dams causing the water level to be 2 meters (6.56 feet) lower than adjacent water bodies. The city responded by installing seven pumping stations, but that has been proven to be ineffective in solving the problems. “The Green Sponge” approach instead provides ecological flood controls, while leaving with a smaller carbon footprint and avoids the construction of conventional retaining wall.
2） The Decline of Cultural Vitality:
After 700 years of disposing domestic and industrial waste in the Kaban Lakes, the city became separated from its waterfront, resulting in the loss of an important source of cultural vitality and ecological amenities. Except from newly constructed concrete embankments in the historic downtown, the other parts of the Lakes’ embankments are mostly inaccessible to the public due to high-speed roadways, private communities, and overgrown groves on abandoned brownfield. This situation was further aggravated by the history of Soviet religious suppression, resulting in waterfront churches and mosques falling into disrepair, only to be halfway restored during recent years。
3 ）Deficiency of Transportation Networks:
The existing development area of the Kaban Lakes has been planned around the automobile, which not only fragmentizes wildlife habitats, but also separate mankind from the waterfront. Lack of accessibility, continuity and connectivity are the three major transportation problems impacting the lakes.
3. Design Strategy
In addressing the above challenges, the objective of the project is to create a green infrastructure that ties all three lakes and the city together forming a blue-green network, which meanders along the embankments, preserves and creates ecological habitats, while also weaving new public realms with numerous existing communities, creating new dynamic districts in Kazan City. Working with existing resources, the overall landscape masterplan is achieved through minimal interventions, which are both feasible and effective through promising a low-maintenance and high performance self-sustaining waterfront for the future. The key strategies used to implement Green Sponge concept in the Kazan City focuses on unleashing the full potentials of the Kaban Lakes along the embankment areas, and provide multiple ecosystem services to the city at various scales.
1 ）Strategies for Ecological Resilience
Connecting and upgrading existing on-site green spaces, the project configures a new urban form based on green infrastructure at various scales, which manages storm water, restores wildlife habitats, and intelligently guides urban growth.
At urban scale, ecological corridors are planned to protect and regulate watershed conditions and existing riparian ecosystems. These corridors, in the form of linear parks, promenades and bioswales, can slow and absorb urban runoff before releasing it into the Lakes, while reconnecting the city and the Lakes with a newly created parks network. The embankments are the most important wetlands in establishing the green network, establishing a continuous symbiotic relationship between buildings, open spaces and the natural environment throughout the city. At local scale, open spaces of various sizes are either renovated or created along the embankments to enhance biodiversity, and attract citizens back to the water.
2 ）Strategies for Cultural Vitality and Social Inclusiveness
Tatarstan is considered as Oasis of tolerance in the Federation of Russia. The region is mainly Muslim, but ethnic Russians make up almost 40% of Republic's population. Over 50% of the population are Islamic. Buddhist, Animist, Jewish, Catholic - all are welcome here. The green infrastructure provides opportunities to seamlessly weave historical landmarks with newly formed parks to create a multi-layered urban network. This landscape infrastructure caters to the city with a diverse programs, including multiple experiences reflecting local customs and seasonal changes. Although the short term objective is to revitalize the waterfront, the projects expects to expand its’ influence in reorganizing adjacent land-uses to foster hospitable and innovative neighborhoods that can thrive in the global creative economy.
3 ）Strategies for Transportation Connection
To solve the accessibility and connectivity problems, the project establishes a slow transportation network by making use of the green infrastructure that eases off urban traffic pressure by encouraging human-oriented transportation, and reconnects man to water by removing or renovating asphalt automobile lanes that segregates the lakes from the city.
Through reorganization and rehabilitation of the 1,138 ha influence area of the Kaban Lakes, the project is expected to reestablish the urban infrastructure of the city into a self-sustaining eco-system. The approaches are strategically conceived to work within present-day realities, while catalyzing a 20-year vision worthy of Kaban Lake and Kazan City’s lasting legacy. The renovation process is curated through three fundamental phases beginning with focusing on the Lower Kaban Lake in the historic downtown. Initial establishment of the proposed green infrastructures are accomplished by 2018 to utilize the development opportunity presented by hosting the 2018 FIFA World Cup. The first phase has been implemented successfully, and the project of transforming the city is in progress. The former deserted water front has been successfully reactivated and has attracted 50,000 visitors daily in the summer of 2018 when it is opened to the public. After over one century’s alienation from the city and people, Kazan’s prime waterfront are now beginning to be reclaimed based on the systematic planning, with healthy ecologies and cultural vitality and contribute to create a feeling of belonging, dignity and the identity of the people’s republic.