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Competition: Reimagine the Canals, New York

Erie Canal

An open international contest has been launched for a £1.9 million series of initiatives to revitalise New York’s 840km-long canal network

Open to multidisciplinary teams of architects, urban designers, engineers and artists, the two-stage competition seeks ‘visionary and implementable’ proposals for ideas to regenerate the sprawling network.

The project – backed by the New York Power Authority and the New York State Canal Corporation – aims to boost recreational uses along the system, which includes the Erie Canal (pictured), the Oswego Canal, the Cayuga-Seneca Canal, and the Champlain Canal. Submissions may take the form of a physical concept or a programming initiative.

According to the brief: ‘The competition seeks visionary ideas for physical infrastructure projects as well as programming initiatives that promote: the canal system as a tourist destination and recreational asset; sustainable economic development along the canals and beyond; the heritage and historic values of the canal system; and its long-term financial sustainability.

‘Solutions that recognise the canal system’s historic ties to its communities while enhancing its long-term financial sustainability are of particular interest. Ideas that consider a specific section of the canal system are encouraged, though submissions may also be site-specific or address the canal system in its entirety.’

The modern New York State Canal System – connecting the upper state to the Great Lakes and the American Midwest – was created in the early 20th century out of a network of earlier canals which date from 1817.

The network was designated a National Historic Landmark earlier this year, and large parts are now run by the NYPA which operates 16 power-generating plants on the Erie Canal. The competition is part of the authority’s strategic aim to boost the long-term vitality of the network, now more popular as a recreational infrastructure than a maritime route.

Submissions should include a five-page document with text and images explaining the concept along with details of team qualifications. Applicants may need to partner with a local authority or non-profit organisation engaged in canal-related work as part of their proposal.

Applications will be evaluated on their ability to meet the competition goals, feasibility, economic and financial impact, innovate and teams’ qualifications. Members of the judging panel have yet to be announced.

Eight shortlisted teams will receive up to £37,780 each to develop their proposals during the competition’s second round where details concerning feasibility, cost, potential funding sources, economic impact, and projected financial impact will be required.

Two or more winning schemes will receive prizes of between £188,900 and £1.13 million to take their projects forward in partnership with NYPA.

The deadline for submission is 5pm local time (EST) on 5 January.

How to apply

Visit the competition website for more information

Contact details

Email: info@reimaginethecanals.com




Brian Stratton, director of the New York State Canal Corporation

Brian Stratton

Brian Stratton

Brian Stratton

Why are your holding a competition to rethink the New York State Canal System?

This year, New York State celebrates the bicentennial of the beginning of construction of New York State’s Canal System, and reflects on the importance of this engineering marvel that made New York the ‘Empire State’ and shaped its economic and cultural history. The canals connect New York City with the rest of the state and America’s Midwest, making Syracuse, Buffalo, and Rochester industrial centres. They led to the growth of numerous maritime-related towns, hamlets, and villages. Today, commercial traffic represents only a small fraction of the millions of tonnes of cargo once shipped annually, and pleasure boating levels have also fallen. The potential to stimulate tourism and economic activity in the communities along the canal remains untapped. Under the direction of Governor Andrew M Cuomo, the New York Power Authority and the New York State Canal Corporation have launched the Reimagine the Canals Competition to ensure that the canals remain vital assets to the communities along its shores and the state beyond.

Canals have played an important role in shaping New York, and have had significant economic impact in many regions around the world. In recent decades, the challenges surrounding decreased commercial activity along these waterways are being dealt with differently. By opening the competition to a global roster of participants, we hope to learn from the best and brightest lights.

There is a range of projects that can help achieve the competition goals, from physical infrastructure to programming, all at different scales, and targeting different geographies.

What is your vision for the future of the network?

Through innovative physical projects and programming initiatives, the hope the canals and their surrounding areas become more active and desirable destinations for locals and visitors. Applicants can propose ideas for the entirety, specific sites, or sections of the 524-miles long Canal System. Ideas that consider a specific section of the Canal System are encouraged.

Erie Canal

Erie Canal

Source: Image by Russ Nelson

Erie Canal

What sort of architects and designers are you hoping will apply?

This competition is about big ideas, not necessarily big names in the design world. The competition invites emerging as well as more established firms from all over the world. The competition will give architects, planners, designers, and creative thinkers an opportunity to take their proposals toward implementation. There will be multiple opportunities for competing proposals to get exposure in the media: the finalists’ ideas will be open to a public vote; events for the public and the press will be organized to announce the finalists at the end of Stage One and the winners at the end of Stage Two; and press releases will feature the finalists and winners of the competition.

Which other design opportunities are on the horizon and how will the architects/designers be procured?

For the time being, seeking winning ideas and seeing them become a reality through the competition are the primary focus for the New York Power Authority and the New York State Canal Corporation.

Are there any other canal network regeneration projects you have been impressed by?

All over the world, canals have been repurposed and reclaimed for new uses including parks, recreational trails, tourism, education, and economic development. In September of this year, New York State hosted the World Canals Conference that brought to light some great ideas of various projects, including those from Scotland, England, Ireland, Poland and Canada.