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Riverscaping Learning Lab explores sustainable approaches to the Connecticut River

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Lessons learned from Hamburg, Germany, and our own backyard were the focus of the Riverscaping Learning Laboratory held April 8 and 9, 2011, in Springfield, Massachusetts. This public event was the first of the Riverscaping Project, an 18-month effort of the Five College consortium and the Five College Architectural Studies Program to help communities along Massachusetts' stretch of the Connecticut River find creative, sustainable approaches to working with and on the river.

Leaders of the effort to sustainably develop the extensive islands of the Elbe River at Hamburg spoke about their work interweaving the natural with the human-made in islands that are home to 50,000 people, 2,500 businesses and extensive wild places. Their efforts were one of reasons Hamburg was named the European Green Capital for 2011.

Experts on the Connecticut River spoke of greenways, bike paths, infrastructure and art along New England's largest river. But much of the experts' time was spent listening to attendees' experiences, ideas, and questions at roundtable discussions that made up much of the Learning Laboratory.

"This is an event that brings together an amazing range of experts, professionals, politicians and citizens from each of the four cities in our focus," said Thom Long, Five College assistant professor of architecture and design at Hampshire College. "We have many goals, but our primary intention was to simply create a forum for the exchange of ideas and the discovery of common challenges and solutions. We hope members of these communities and organizations can learn from each other and possibly form relationships that lead to future collaborations."

Long, with Frank Sleegers, assistant professor of landscape architecture at UMass Amherst and Karen Koehler, professor of architectural and art history at Hampshire College, are leading the Riverscaping Project, which was awarded €100,000 from the European Union Delegation to the United States. In three "laboratories"—learning, research and design—participants will explore ways to engage the river in four Massachusetts communities: Turners Falls, Hadley, Holyoke and Springfield.

"On Elbe Island, comprehensive models for a transformation of industrial landscapes engage culture, art, history, environment," said Sleegers, who has worked on projects in the Elbe islands. "The learning laboratory taught us about these strategies and inspires us to apply them here in the river valley."

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