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FREEing the Quequechan River

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During the Industrial Revolution, Fall River, Massachusetts was hailed as the textile capital of the world. “Spindle City's” prosperity was attributed to its premier location on the northeast transportation corridor, abundant water sources, efficient mills and skilled workforce. In the early 20th century, many of Fall River's textile manufacturers moved their operations to southern states. The Quequechan River that powered the mills was polluted and its toxic waste water was directed to culverts and underground pipes. In the 1960's Interstate I-195 replaced the river's path and consequently bisected the city and separated the center and neighborhoods from the waterfront and Battleship Cove.

Today, the natural resources, man-made infrastructure, and workforce remain intact and the Gateway City is ideally suited for the research, development and manufacturing of renewable energy. Fall River is making great strides towards building reciprocity between man-made and natural environments. Future efforts will require close collaboration between urban planning initiatives and the engineering and scientific realities of the built and natural environment. This paper explores the heritage of Fall River's relationship the river and industry, examines the practical limitations to river restoration and forecasts the steps required to achieve the City's goals.

Newport Collaborative Architects, Inc., Fall River Mayor William Flanagan, and the Fall River Office of Economic Development are currently collaborating on “Fall River Energy Enterprise (FREE),” a vision plan to make Fall River a regional leader in renewable energy. The core of this plan encompasses a vision of urban watershed restoration developed through community charrettes and consensus. FREE frames city-building and the reinvestment potential of urban rivers. FREE also leverages sustainable development through urban river and floodplain restoration.

More specifically, FREE is a vision plan that provides Fall River with a direction for economic revitalization with renewable energy projects and adaptive reuse of historic mills. The plan is designed to position Fall River as a regional leader in renewable energy, attract new business and create jobs, as well as make the city Greener and less dependent on fossil fuels. FREE will create jobs, allow for cheaper energy costs, and bring together the ideas that the community, business and political leaders believe to be the best for Fall River.

Historic preservation and adaptive reuse are the ultimate form of recycling and Fall River has more than 10 million square feet of mill space. These historic and unique structures are crafted from Fall River granite and load bearing masonry and are ideally suited for a wide range of uses. The repurposing of the mills is intended to create jobs in their reconstruction and attract business to generate additional tax revenue for the city. FREE is a vision plan that promotes prosperity through sustainability.

Some specific goals of FREE include: restoring hydropower sources and creating a new crescent-shaped dam and waterfall; offering opportunities for renewable power generation and forming an Enterprise Zone along Interstate 195 from the Watuppa Ponds to the Taunton River. The community has identified the following actions as priorities: daylighting the Quequechan River for new riverfront development; repurposing existing mill structures for new industry research and development; connecting neighborhoods to the waterfront and revitalizing parcels from Battleship Cove to Point Gloria by replacing the elevated Route 79 structure with a waterfront esplanade and tree-lined boulevard. Benefits to Fall River from an integrated urban planning process include: available locations throughout the city for water, wind, solar, and geo- thermal renewable energy sources; increased revenues as a result of the adaptive mill reuse, lower energy costs to operate city buildings, and green clean jobs through renewable sources of energy.

The restoration of the urban river corridor in Fall River faces a number of distinctive technical and structural challenges including: hydraulic capacity of the river and existing structures to supply power and restore an aesthetic sense of the riverway, integration of interstate highway corridor with river restoration, public access and sensible traffic flow, stormwater management, permitting of hydropower installation and habitat restoration, establishing water rights for historic mills and restoring access to water usage, development of novel renewable energy schemes and management of chemically challenged sediments. Our presentation will discuss the vision, technical approach and progress to meeting these challenges.
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Keywords: Daylighting; Gateway City; Green Corridor; adaptive reuse; dam; geothermal; habitat restoration; historic preservation; hydropower; mills; pathways; renewable energy; urban edges

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 January 2010

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