Edges in transition

Spatial strategies for a regeneration of socio-ecological systems along the Vistula River

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The proximity of rivers stimulated the development of the economy and culture of civilizations throughout the ages. Consequently, the advancements in technology allowed people to influence the riverine systems. In riparian areas, such as the Vistula River Delta, the river was regulated and the land was reclaimed to accommodate agriculture, urbanization and industries. Besides the spatial changes, the anthropogenic alterations have also environmental consequences, namely increased risk of flooding and limited water and sediment retention capacity of the delta. Lowered ecological performance of the riverine edges lead to a higher amount of contaminants being discharged to the Vistula River and subsequently to the Baltic Sea. The pollution caused by human activities as well as severe changes in the climate profoundly affect the state of ecosystems and human health.

Designing for regeneration of socio-ecological systems along the Vistula River is based on understanding the relationships between the pollution flows, flooding and the performance of the riverine edges. The project suggests a systemic transition towards more regenerative riverine landscapes with a focus on the redefinition of the edge space by remodeling landscape topography and the use of specific vegetation. The landscape design provides ecosystem services, including improvement of water quality, flood management, biodiversity and recreation.
The proposal illustrates possible changes in the three exemplary riverine edges, namely an agricultural edge and an underutilized and post-industrial edge in the city of Gdansk. The choice of these types of edges was based on the fact that agriculture is the biggest factor that contributes to the eutrophication of the Baltic Sea (HELCOM, 2015), while the post-industrial edges in Gdansk face environmental and spatial challenges that might become potentialities for future changes.
The design and its possible expansion intend to enhance the ecological, social and economic performance of the Vistula River edges. Higher ecological performance is achieved through the implementation of remediation practices and creating space for flood accommodation. Whereas, social and economic performance is enhanced by new functions and an increase of accessibility and connectedness of the edges. The proposal might act as a model for transitions of the Vistula river tributaries as well as other riverine systems facing similar issues. That is thanks to the set of design principles established in the project. The ambition of the thesis is to contribute to the promotion of ecological awareness and advocacy in Poland.