Tiber charrette exhibit, Sede di Roma studio

Roman river god Tiberinus, Piazza del Campidoglio

Prospects for Regenerating Rome's Tiber River

My Spring 2008 sabbatical considered riparian urbanism and regenerative possibilities along the Tiber River corridor in Rome, Italy.  This was an extension of prior work on urban rivers, and a great opportunity to study the 'eternal' Tiber in its geophysical, historical, and socio-cultural contexts.  Although I'd spent time along the river in 1999 and studied it from the confines of publications and archives, it was during the 5 weeks I spent above, beside, and on the Tiber that reaffirmed the notion that the urban river does, indeed, reflect the values of the civil society through which it flows. Like the Ganges, the Tiber is at once sacred and profane.

Now and then, fabled or infamous rivers that are tightly interwoven with the identity of their places are re-imagined and embraced by a wide consortium of citizens, professionals and civic leaders -- Toronto's Don River and The Netherlands' river Rhine come to mind; the EU's URBEM website documents European precedents.  Such occasions can even catalyze broader urban regional sustainability and conviviality.  Our rivers and waterfronts, then, present us with both impetus and resource for collective and individual renewal in the city.  As go our waters, so go our cities.

Below are glimpses of sites and ideas associated with my continuing study of the Tiber.  As you'll see, I had the pleasure of developing and testing a Tiber module for SALA’s Sede di Roma curriculum for fourth-year BLA students.  We examined four meanders through old Rome, from just upstream of Ponte Margherita downstream to Ponte dell’Industria.  My charge to the groups was to blend ecological, hydrological and urban realism with creativity -- seeing, documenting, responding to, and reflecting on what was there.  Inquiries were guided by this question:  What physical interventions may serve to regenerate the Tiber and its environs while enhancing the quality of life of Romans and their visitors?  

The concerted and imaginative participation of the students inspired my studies in no small way, as did the advice of Sede di Roma Profs. Pennypacker, Peralta, and Kavalirek.  The Penn State President's Fund for Research and the Department of Landscape Architecture provided travel and logistic support.  Stephen Keefer, BLA '09, was my able Research Assistant.  Thanks to Romolo Martemucci and Linda Usai for arranging  accommodations in Trastevere and smoothing out the little hurdles.  Finally, many thanks to the American Academy in Rome for the Visiting Scholar Readership spot in its Ross Library.

The view from the Academy in Rome's Ross Library.

A cormorant dries its wings on
one of the Tiber's few gravel bars.

The Nutria, a large rodent of South American origin, was introduced as a fur-bearer. Their feeding and burrowing
habits are

The pollution-tolerant damselfly Cercion lindenii is a
useful bioindicator of water quality on the lower Tiber.

Opportunistic sycamore sprouts serve as
 sentinels during a contemplative moment.

 A dry spot below Ponte Cestio. For Rome's large itinerant population, the bridges and cloaca are havens of a sort.

 Sede di Roma students observe riverside activities
 from one of the countless elevated vantage points.

Stencil on the floodwall -- to me, a welcome irony.

Older and newer ways to the riverside,
with contrasting privileges.

A portal of the Ponte Matteotti pier provides an
intriguing frame to spontaneous vegetation.

Another late evening in the studio.

Documentation of site observations and
metrics precedes intervention ideas.

Studio interlude featuring the duo of Lloyd & Beard.

Porto di Ripetta, Gaspar van Wittel, 1703.                                                              1748 G. Nolli map excerpt of Porto di Ripetta riverfront.
source: Academy in Rome archives

Meander-based reaches followed during the Tiber module analysis.

A stroller seems mesmerized by graffiti on the Tiber's west wall. Huge engineered structures have straightjacketed
the Tiber for centuries, most profoundly the high stone embankments that were completed in the early 1900s.  
For Romans, dynamic equilibrium -- that ideal but tenuous state of river basin hydrology
-- is a distant memory.

The outfall of Rome's legendary Cloaca Maxima is,
in reality, a clogged sewer-turned-homeless-shelter.

                                                                                                                     Heraldic dragon carved into the remnant
                                                                                                                     travertine pier of Ponte Rotto.

Mid-winter sunseekers make use of what's available along the revetment of Isola Tiberina (Tiber Island)

Despite decades of civic efforts, the Tiber is still very much a dumping ground.

The Tiber's river-city interface hints at possibilities of a new riparian urbanism
that integrates elegance of form with integrity of hydrobiological processes.

A silty point bar provides substrate for hydric plants below Ponte Garibaldi.

Accretion patterns upstream of Ponte Sant'Angelo suggest heavy
sediment load and fluvial disruptions due to piers and streambed ruins.

Isola Tiberina's backchannel could be the hub of riparian and aquatic restoration -- a fitting
tribute to an island renowned as a place of healing.


River flow along the meander's west (outside) bank at Ponte Sant'Angelo impacts hardened
structures and deposits leftover from the previous summer's artificial beach installation. Unnatural
sediment buildup and organic pollution combine to limit any healthy assemblage of aquatic life. 

Fourth-year BLA Sede di Roma students participate in peer critiques during Tiber charrette pin-ups.





Excerpts of student sketches prepared during the Tiber charrette,
credits from the top:  J. Beckler (2), C. Burkhart (2), M. Kadwill, and M. Huey

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