Creat. Sp.

Principles of Ecological Riverfront Design Redefined

Nabilah redzuan and Nurul Syala Abdul Latip


Riverfront Design, Principles of Ecological Riverfront Design, Riverbank, Sustainability, Rive

PUBLISHER The Author(s) 2016. This article is published with open access at

Channelization of rivers, along with beautification and structured designated landscape design along the riverbanks, are parts of the development that occur in the urban centres around the world. Such developments are often taken up to prevent natural catastrophes such as floods, without considering the nature of the river itself. Realizing this mistake and its adverse effects towards the environment, many developed countries, such as the U.S.A., U.K., Japan, China and, many more, have started to ecologically reorganize riverfront designs to ensure that rivers are restored to their natural condition. Various principles of ecological riverfront design are available, but the information is patchy and in different documents. Hence, this research aimed at redefining the principles of ecological riverfront design. A qualitative method, using comprehensive content analysis of journals and reports on ecological riverfront designs and ecological riverfront design guidelines from selected countries, was employed to redefine such principles. In summary, these principles could become a reference for architects, planners, engineers and other related professional bodies to reconsider the ecological aspect of riverfronts while planning and creating the urban spaces along the riverbanks, thereby indirectly promoting urban sustainability within the urban cities.


A River is one of the valuable natural resources, especially for human life and its environment. The evolution of rivers since the beginning of civilisation have shown their importance in shaping and influencing the development of human settlements, which in turn have led to the development of large cities around the world [14]. Malaysia is also not excluded from this phenomena as the settlements originally started and spread up along the riverbanks [12]. Many urban centres in Malaysia, such as Kuala Lumpur, Melaka, Kuching and Terengganu, were established after the settlements had developed on riverbanks or in river valleys. Therefore, understanding the historical phases of riverfront development is important because of its influence on development of urban centres [23]. The ‘riverfront’ stated here represents the water edge area, where the city meets the river (Fig. 1).

Referring to the Fig. 2, the riverfront is part of the waterfront development. Thus, the history of riverfront development can be referred to as the waterfront development. Timur (2013) cited that the historical evolution of waterfront can be seen as divided into four phases, starting with the emergence of waterfront cities as Phase 1, the growth of waterfronts as Phase 2, the decline of waterfronts as Phase 3 and, the rediscovery of waterfronts as Phase 4 [23] (Fig. 3).

Trading and transportation activities were the main catalysts that stimulated the growth of waterfronts as the big cities and settlements started to expand during the second phase. However, the rapid developments that occurred all around the world caused the deterioration of the waterfront. During this time, as non-water industries had monopolized the scene, the waterfront was rendered inaccessible and later became dead. As a matter of fact, shifting from the natural to the urban environment lead the river ecosystem to gradually lose its function and natural characteristics. Impacts such as reduction of sediment loads, changing of the river channel and its flow, invasion of non-native plants in watershed areas and introduction of flood hazards [29] due to human activities such as channelization, dam construction, diversion and culverting, all led to negative consequences, causing major ecological damage on the ecosystem. According to Md. Yassin et al (2010), the abandonment of waterfront for many years also contributes to the lack of water sensitivity in the urban ecosystem. The historical evolution of the waterfront also distinguishes it into five categories, according to its location vis-à-vis the water (as cited in [23]:

Realizing the natural and commercial failure, a research into the recovery of waterfronts was conducted to regenerate them for public use. This is the phase that is currently being developed all around the world. The rediscovery of the waterfront, i.e., the Phase 4, was conducted through three phases. The first phase of development focused on the flood control. In the second phase, the waterfront development had focused on the transformation of riverbanks area into parks and recreation areas. Some actions have also been taken to overcome the stated problems but much is still lacking, and several issues are not yet properly resolved. Processes, such as river channelization, are conducted to prevent natural catastrophes such as floods and arrest the worsening of pollution. These actions have led to the third phase, where the waterfront development focuses on ecological development along the riverbank areas. Acknowledging the mistakes and its adverse effects towards the environment, many developed countries such as the U.S.A., U.K., Japan, China and, many more have started to ecologically redevelop the riverfront in order to ensure that the rivers are restored to their natural condition [15, 24].

As mentioned above, it is important to know that this research only focused on urban areas located on banks of river. Md. Yassin et al. (2012) stated that developments along the riverbank in Malaysia are solely for recreation, residential and mix-use development [13]. Every redevelopment must be themed according to the history of the place, culture, climate, layout and design land use of development, with accessibility, pedestrian access and aesthetical value becoming the main attraction. Straightening and channelization of riverbank are the only water edge treatments applied, as these are the fastest solutions to prevent excessive water flow during high flow. It can be seen that none of the riverfront redevelopment designs highlight the integration of ecological design principles into the riverfront design. Hence, this research aimed to redefine the principles of ecological riverfront design. The objectives of the research comprise identifying the natural characteristics of riverbanks for a better understanding of their role in relation to ecological riverfront design, examining the current riverfront redevelopment and, lastly, generating the principles of ecological riverfront design.

Page(s) 29–48
ISSN Print : 2321-3892, Online : 2321-7154
DOI 0.15415/cs.2016.41002

This research redefined the principles of ecological riverfront design. Based on the findings, it can be concluded that, although not all rivers can be redeveloped, Table other possible areas that still have potential to be improved can be taken into account. Various guidelines analyzed showed that there are options to redevelop riverfronts through some ecological improvements. To secure the riverfront growth, it is important for riverfront to be restored and rehabilitated based on the suitable approaches according to the stream orders that will enhance its features. The restoration and rehabilitation could not have been done without going through the stages of principles: (i) General, (ii) Planning, (iii) Design and (iv) Implementation. Every ecological riverfront design development need to undergo through each of the above stages in order to identify and implement the most appropriate solution for riverfront restoration and rehabilitation. Whether upstream, midstream or downstream, all principles outlined above are, without doubt, aimed at reconnecting the riverfront with the public while allowing the nature do its work. These principles could encourage all related professional bodies, including architects, planners, engineers and developers, to reconsider the ecological aspect of the riverfront while planning and creating urban spaces along the riverbank. Implementing the principles of ecological riverfront design not only promotes urban sustainability in developed urban areas but leads to a comfortable and healthy lifestyle as well.

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