Living with Water: Re-Imagining Urban Hydrologies in Washington, DC

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Across the world, human development has drastically changed the nature of our landscapes and the hydrology of the places we inhabit. Hundreds of waterways were buried, canalized, or piped as part of sewer systems. While natural water systems were being contained or erased from our landscapes, a vast network of aqueducts, canals, reservoirs, and sewage tunnels was constructed. This massive system runs under our feet, where it is out of sight and out of mind, and the architecture and urban design of our cities allows us to imagine that the water we drink and the waste that flush down our pipes is completely independent of our waterways. These choices have had costs. Ecosystems were devastated, manipulation of the landscape has led to increased flooding, and communities have been deprived of the benefits of access to local waterways – reduced urban heat island effects, a place to cool off on hot days, and mental health benefits. Climate change is stressing all aspects of our hydrological systems: creating risks of supply disruptions and shortages and resulting in more frequent floods. Using as a test case Hickey Run, a partially piped and highly polluted waterway in Washington, DC, this thesis will propose a way to make visible and reconnect separated parts of water infrastructure - natural waterways, water supply, and wastewater systems - re-conceptualizing them as parts of a single, dynamic ecosystem. It will explore how tools of architecture, urban design, and landscape infrastructure can be used to develop alternative futures for the built environment, in which waterways can be woven into dense urban fabric, instead of being buried, in order to support ecological restoration and more resilient urban communities.