You are currently viewing an archived version of this article. To reduce our digital footprint, we archive all articles after three months on site, compressing images to lighten page weight and lessen our impact on the world. Our full digital archive is accessible to boom saloon members, who directly enable our community projects and receive a series of member perks in thanks. To join them and further support our work, please become a member here. Not ready to be member yet? To make a one time donation, please click here

Save to List: Simon Hicks’ Sustainable Global Spaces

A world’s worth of recommended spots from our global community
words – simon hicks
location – berlin, germany

At boom saloon, we’re incredibly privileged to collaborate with a community of hundreds of talented creatives all around the world, stretching from Ecuador to Egypt, China to Canada, Austria to Angola. Our strong relations have afforded us a wealth of insider insights into the best places to visit, eat and stay, all around the world. Now, we want to share this information with you as we work with our community to map the world and share their best recommendations of how to enjoy destinations both near and far. Our version of a city guide, delivered interactively and in real time – curated for all to enjoy and presented as a savable Google Map for our members to save and bookmark a wealth of future adventures.

The earliest human civilisations across Mesopatamia, Sumeria, North India and Egypt all had one thing in common: water. The lifeblood and transport system of our early cities, water has never been far away from the foundations of our first buildings and societies. However, in our relentless pursuit of progress, we have often buried, canalised or obscured these vital watercourses to the point where they are forgotten. But we know that water offers more than just a lifeline [or a waste line: see the River Fleet in London]; it provides environmental, social and economic benefits that are reaped by all citizens. Read on for a journey through a handpicked selection of nine remarkable open spaces, each offering a unique relationship between water and humankind.

SANCTUARIES:

01_Paley Park, New York City | Zion Breen Richardson Associates

In the heart of bustling Manhattan, Paley Park stands as a tranquil oasis. Its centrepiece is a delicate water fountain that serves as more than just a refreshing sight; it’s an auditory escape from the city’s relentless noise. The gentle murmur of cascading water artfully drowns out the cacophony of the urban jungle, offering respite and contemplation for its visitors. In a world marked by relentless pace and desk-bound sedentary lifestyles, Paley Park serves as a gentle reminder to slow down and reconnect with the soothing presence of nature.

 
02_Copenhagen Harbour Baths | BIG + JDS

The Copenhagen Harbour Baths provide a somewhat unusual example of an urban sanctuary. These artificial baths are a lifeline for commuters and a source of joy for families living in the nearby Faste Batteri and Christiania neighbourhoods. Perhaps the word sanctuary isn’t entirely fitting when the screams of adults and children alike can be heard as brave souls cascade down into the water from high diving boards. Nonetheless, the pool’s significance transcends its activities: they emerged after a committed effort to reclaim the city’s watercourse and eliminate pollution from Copenhagen’s canals. They are a testament to the city’s long-term dedication to environmental and social stewardship.

 
03_Elephant Park, London | Gillespies

Tucked away within the heart of South London, Elephant Park is an almost hidden gem in its relatively dense urban surroundings. Elephant Park mimics the quiet flow of a natural stream, with water gently coursing over stones in this artificial riverbed. Yet it is more than just an imitation; it’s a magnet for families. While it may not be entirely “childproof” with its hard edges and slightly slippery surfaces, it harks back to bygone memories of a time when, ungoverned, children discovered the boundaries of play in rural streams. Elephant Park brings a touch of the wild into the city, creating a haven where both the young and old can explore the soothing, or slightly dangerous, embrace of nature.

CULTURES:

04_Rabalder Park, Roskilde Denmark | Nordarch

Rabalder skate park in Roskilde marries the unexpected worlds of skateboarding and flood mitigation. For the majority of the year, it serves as a vibrant community amenity, servicing the often neglected young adults in the neighbourhood. Furthermore, during severe rainfall, it transforms into a flood peak attenuation defence capable of holding up to a staggering 23,000 cubic metres of rainwater. That’s about nine Olympic swimming pools’ worth of resilience. Rabalder Park stands as an ingenious blend of culture, community and climate mitigation.

 

05_Agrasen Ki Baoli, Delhi

Agrasen Ki Baoli, immaculately restored by the Kahn Foundation, isn’t just an ancient stepwell in Delhi; it’s a living testament to the fusion of culture, history and community. Historically, stepwells like Agrasen Ki Baoli have not only been sources of life-giving potable water, but have also served as popular meeting places for social and religious gatherings. This historic site still preserves much of its ancient charm, boasting crowds of families, tourists, school trips, food vendors and a litany of wild smells that all who frequent Indian cities will eventually learn to love. For me, it’s a place where long lost relatives of my own family were once reconnected, yet this carefully restored cultural and social space holds a special place in the hearts of many who visit. It’s a waterscape where history echoes across cavernous walls with every stone and step.

 

06_The Metro-Forest Project, Bangkok | TK Studio

The Metro-Forest Project in Bangkok embarks on an ambitious journey to re(rain)forest the city in homage to its traditional ecological and cultural roots. Using trees that once thrived during the mid-19th Century under the reigns of King Rama III and Rama IV, this 2-hectare restoration project offers a glimpse into Bangkok’s former ecological majesty. Raised walkways bring visitors up to the treetops and then transport them back down to the forest floor and wetlands, where new growth shoots upward from the restored earth. Metro-Forest demonstrates how quickly a city can reconnect with its past and enrich its present by blending historical culture with environmental restoration.

NATURALISATION:

07_The Seoul Cheonggyecheon River | Mikyoung Kim Design

Across the globe, many cities have undertaken river restorations – but few have matched the sheer spectacle of Seoul’s Cheonggyecheon. Once buried under a congested concrete highway, the city administration made the audacious decision to reclaim this space for its people. Today, Cheonggyecheon is divided into distinct parks; some are designed for social seating and recreation, while others aim to naturalise the riverbanks and provide a habitat for native species. Indeed, nature’s navigation has taken the wheel where combustion engines once reigned supreme: birds now fly where cars once crawled. Beyond its social and environmental benefits, the Cheonggyecheon restoration has increased land values by 30-50% for properties within 50 metres of the river, underscoring the transformative economic impacts of water restoration.

 

08_Bristol Harbourside | Grant Associates

In the charming city of Bristol, the Harbourside area offers a different approach to environmental revitalisation. Floodable levels of lush planting provide defence against flooding events, while innovative floating planters create filtration reedbeds in water that is too deep for traditional plantings. The result is a harmonious coexistence of a bustling harbourside with thriving native flora. The combination of these elements not only offers nurturing spaces for residents to sit and ponder, but also acts as a nurturing ground for birds and river life – creating vibrant ecosystems within arm’s reach of the city’s hustle and bustle.

 

09_Knepp Estate, Sussex UK | The Knepp Estate

Our journey concludes with a rural gem: the Knepp Estate in Sussex, UK. This unique estate serves as a north star for what a naturalised and wild landscape can achieve with the right ingredients and a lifelong dedication to letting water spaces flourish. Here, naturalisation isn’t just about unmanaged vegetation; it’s about embracing the natural behaviours and rhythms of wild animals to create resilience and seasonal opportunities within the landscape. Knepp blends the activities of reintroduced beavers with the keystone qualities of pigs and cattle, creating a dynamic and ever-changing system of wetlands: flooded grassland, seasonal pools, oxbow lakes and bifurcating streams all offer new habitats for a whole host of species, enriching the ecosystem and demonstrating the power of allowing nature to flourish on its own terms.

 

As we explore these diverse public spaces, one thing becomes clear: our cities need to harness their water assets, but they must also foster flourishing ecosystems and societies. Visionaries design the future, but it is the natural world and human choices that determine success. Our journey through these public spaces reminds us that water is not just an essential resource; it’s the lifeblood that can rejuvenate our urban environments and connect people with the wild, ultimately enriching both our ecosystems and our communities. These remarkable projects demonstrate that small and big ideas can go a long way, and it’s up to you to inhabit these man-made natural systems. In the words of Knepp Estate, you have to do your best and “wait and see what turns up of its own accord” – and the votes count whether they’re made with feet or wings.

A note: Each month, we update our site as part of our efforts to reduce the environmental impact of our digital estate. The global emissions from the digital industry are on a par with those from the aviation industry, at almost 2% of total global emissions. What’s worse, this is increasing year on year. In an effort to lessen our impact, each month we compress and archive previous features and update our site with new content. Throughout the month, our current features are available to all to enjoy; our full digital archive is accessible to boom saloon members, in thanks for their support to use creativity to inspire and empower those facing challenges. Support our work and become a member by clicking here.