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Gina Ford and Rhiannon Sinclair on How to Make Urban Waterways Accessible to All

September 11, 2019

Despite their potential for improving quality of life, urban waterways are often ignored, underutilized or unseen. Gina Ford is helping cities see the importance of protecting waterways and improving access.

In her guest webinar presentation on Wednesday, September 11, 2019, Ford, along with Rhiannon Sinclair, senior urban planner at Agency Landscape + Planning, discussed two waterway vision projects she recently completed: the High Line Canal Vision Plan in Denver and the White River Vision Plan in Indiana.

Indiana’s White River, which flows through Indianapolis, featured a state park, some disconnected walkways, and opportunities for canoeing or kayaking. But largely, the White River went underused until leaders agreed on a larger vision.

“Natural systems are the lifeblood of our communities,” says Gina Ford, principal landscape architect at Agency Landscape + Planning. “I often feel like it is our duty as designers and critical thinkers to bring forward the complexities of those systems and their benefits for everyone to understand and appreciate the role these places have to create resilient and equitable futures for the next generation.”

“Twenty years ago, the White River was so polluted it killed an estimated 4.6 million fish, spurring federal and state policies and restoration,” says Ford. “Today, the river is safe to fish in – though that understanding is not shared by many who remember the cultural and environmental ramifications of the historic fish kill. Much of our early planning efforts were used to articulate to the broader public the health of the river and highlight hidden gems for recreation, for economic development and for preservation.”

In Denver, more than 3,500 members of the 17 unique communities along the canal came out to share their memories of the past, observations about the canal and ideas for its future. “For both projects, outreach and engagement of the hundreds of diverse and unique communities along those waterways were paramount to building awareness of those waterways and their roles in future climate resilience and social and economic equity,” says Ford.

Ford is a landscape architect, plus co-founder and principal of Agency Landscape + Planning. Underpinning her two decades of practice are a commitment to the design and planning of public places and the perpetuation of the value of landscape architecture via thought leadership, teaching, writing and lecturing. Ford is also a Next City Vanguard. Sinclair is an urban planner with a background in architecture and sustainability. She received a Masters degree in City and Regional Planning from the University of Pennsylvania, and a B.Arch from Philadelphia University.

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