A discussion on the GSAPP Urban Design program’s Spring 2020 Water Urbanism Studio, The Great Rift Valley.
Kate Orff, MSAUD Program Director, in conversation with Andrew Revkin, Founding Director, Initiative on Communication & Sustainability The Earth Institute, Columbia University and Geeta Mehta, Fitsum Gelaye, Thaddeus Pawlowski, and Dilip Da Cunha, members of the Urban Design Program faculty. They will also be joined by Kelley Lynch and Vanessa Barchfield, two reporters who were embedded with the studio to tell the larger story of urban landscapes in transition along The Great Rift Valley as they face water scarcity, climate stress, and social displacement.
The Rift Valley is an active space of movement and exchange spanning watery crevices and fertile landscapes from the Jordan River Valley in the Middle East to the Zambezi Delta; in these extensive shallows, fresh river water meets the Indian Ocean in Mozambique. The tectonic plates underlying the Rift are pulling away from each other, and expanding socio-political fractures on the surface follow suit. The 2020 spring semester Urban Design Studio explored how three cities along the Rift—Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel; Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; and Beira, Mozambique—might forge systems and spaces to span this divide amid rapid urbanization and while grappling with the unique impacts of the climate crisis. Student design projects imagine creative alternatives to address the interrelated risks faced by vulnerable populations. These include extreme heat in Tel Aviv, flash flooding due to river floodplain development in Addis Ababa, and coastal inundation and disaster recovery in Beira, which was struck by Cyclone Idai in 2019. The studio’s visionary design strategies propose new forms of urban living that embrace the complexity of water, which is critical to maintaining life along the Rift; the strategies foster social interactions through local stewardship and empowerment models. Marked with fossil evidence from the beginning of human civilization, the Great Rift Valley encourages bold thinking about Earth’s next 100 years of habitability. The Rift suggests new approaches to social and ecological life that bridge global and local economies and furthers site-specific proposals that advance resilient urban design in each context.
Image Credit: Global Forecast Drought Tool is used to show the Aridity Lines in Africa, these zones of unrest and drought with sites of study for the Great Rift Valley studio marked in Tel Aviv, Addis Ababa and Beira.