Riachuelian Instruments

[an articulated lightweight surface collector is barge-mounted and used to collect the floating garbage that is trapped behind the floating booms deployed on the lower third of the Riachuelo; these are moored in the Vuelta de Rocha turning basin at the end of a day of work, which is a heavily populted zone and also the main tourist zone along the Riachuelo, as opposed to further upstream where the majority of industrial activities currently occur, foregrounding the disgusting reality of the cleaning process in the minds of tourists and neighbors; the effort is a joint initiative headed by ACUMAR]

This week we had the chance to spend some time along the Riachuelo. Given our historical and theoretical fascination with the ACUMAR project as a water basin authority with intergovernmental jurisdiction and capital funds, and our recently completed thesis project looking at this very landscape, we were interested to note how the project itself is proceeding on the ground. Complex environmental projects to clean the Riachuelo have tended to get bogged down in bureaucratic and political morass with little material change being realized. The ACUMAR project offers hope because of its ability to span governmental jurisdictions to deal with the entire watershed, and it unites this power with the capacity to design and carry out its own projects because it controls its own capital funds.

Walking along the lower Riachuelo on a sunny, cool day during the austral winter I noted a few interesting things besides the acrid stink that slowly offended my eyes and nose. About half of the warehouses and work yards lining the Riachuelo are stilll functioning, although none of their critical functions pertain in any way to the canal any longer, with all heavy moving being done by trucks. The adjacency is an ossification of the historical relationship between water and industrial work. Every quarter mile or so floating booms are deployed about a third of the way across the canal. These are roughly positioned to take advantage of currents swinging around bends in the canal which carry the floating garbage. As the zones behind the booms fill up, they seem to be cleaned out about once per day, ideally before the garbage sinks and becomes more difficult to remove.

[a large trash boom along the lower portion of the Riachuelo; these have been deployed throughout the canal as a way of concentrating the collection of trash; the resulting effect is an acceleration and dramatization of certain depositional and collection processes, and the repetition of a certain family of elements (wood piling, arched boom) throughout the canal; these might be articulated or elaborated to perform more functions- offering more habitat, guiding currents or sediment deposition, and directing traffic of small scale boats]

Interestingly, these booms are also utilized by birds who have made their way to the Rio de la Plata estuary from the Patagonia region of South America, which is currently deep into a frigid winter. Why they choose the booms of the Riachuelo instead of a place in the Parana Delta or the Ecological Reserve just a few kilometers away is unclear. Perhaps these are adventurous birds, always flying out to the sparsely inhabited places to see what there is to see, and eat. They are a welcome sight on the canal, and indicate that both semi-permanent apparatuses such as trash booms, and vegetated areas along the canal banks, could be designed and reconsidered to eventually offer habitat to these beautiful creatures. For now their boldness is unrewarded, because the water in the canal is totally fucking dead, and there are no fish and little other aquatic life on offer.

The last form of activity currently on the canal are the pedestrian-scale flat-bottom row boats taking people across the canal. In the Tierra Plastica project we noted that an earlier small boat crossing existed near the mouth of the canal under the transporter bridge. This is the only pedestrian crossing for nearly two miles on the lower section of the canal, and even this is informal, operating at rather mysterious times, though always during the heavy rush hours. The situation is ridiculous given how heavily populated this zone is on each side of the canal, with areas of work in industry and tourism intermixed with domestic neighborhoods. Residents living on one side of the canal and working or wanting to visit the other might be facing a bus fare and trip of 30 minutes or more, or a 3-4 mile walk, for what could be a 5 minute boat ride.

To our surprise this ferrying operation seems to have expanded, with a new boat crossing informally established at the old train bridge about a mile upriver. The get-down ramp is very obviously made from found materials- charming but precarious given the cost of falling through and in to the Riachuelo itself. This system could be expanded, and the get-downs should be all many of ramps, chutes, fireman’s poles, steps, ladders, and tube slides. They could be established at important street end traversed by a critical mass of pedestrians, and operate at a minimum during certain specific hours. The opportunity to get down close to the water, especially if it is every cleaner and the smell a bit less offensive, and experience the city from a different perspective while also getting to work or to your daughter’s recital a bit faster is invaluable and could be the new life of the canal.

[this action map of the Tierra Plastica project was used to study how the canal and its edges might support a network of pedestrian-scale crossings, both by boat and by bridge, using the canal to as a transitional zone that united related neighborhoods and catalyzed the production of new urban space]

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