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Revitalization of the Fez River: A Reclaimed Public Space

Founded in 789, Fez is the third largest city in Morocco. Its historic center, the Medina, is a unique urban structure that features passive architecture, unique urban landscapes, and one of the biggest pedestrian networks in the world. But the Medina, listed as a world heritage site by the UNESCO in 1981, is facing several challenges and threats.

One of the main threats to the Medina's environment is the pollution and the dreadful water quality of Oued Fes, the city's historic river. Overcrowding, uncontrolled urban development and accelerated development of polluting craft activities, such as copper and leather, had turned the clear water stream into an open sewer. By the 1950s the Fez river, once called Oued Al Jawahir, the "river of jewels," was renamed Oued Boukhrareb, the "river of trash." Local authorities chose to cover the river, hiding the issue under a thick slab of concrete.

Polluted river, Oued Fez

In January 2009, the project "Oued Al Jawahir development" was launched to uncover the Fez river and reintegrate it in the Medina urban fabric. But this project couldn't have been isolated. The rehabilitation of Oued Al Jawahir came as part of ongoing historic preservation and revitalization efforts.

The project is one of three independent but interrelated projects which address public and open spaces in the historic center. With a budget of $3.38 million, the plan includes five sequences stretched along one kilometer through the Medina. The first and last sequences are the sites of two plazas redevelopments: Place Rcif, already at its final stages, and Place Lala Yeddouna, that was the object of an international competition and has yet to begin. These plazas will respond to a real need for open spaces in the Medina.

Rcif Plaza

At the core of the river redevelopment vision are great environmental concerns. The city's department of water and power invested in two sewage water treatment facilities along with the project that will contribute to the achievement of better water quality in the Fez river. The project's main objective is to reduce water pollution and to set the river banks as a safe, liveable public space that will contribute to the improvement of the residents' quality of life.

Polluted river, Oued Fez

However, many challenges still need to be overcome. The implementation of sustainable approaches as part of the pollution removal process, as well as the enforcement of restrictive laws against illegal dumping, are real concerns. The plan to displace the tannery and copper workshops is also facing resistance from the artisans who won't leave their historic workplaces easily.

Polluted river, Oued Fez

Urban river projects are often controversial and generate important public interest. What are the main challenges that you know of that were faced by other river projects? Do you know of any best practices?

Credits: Images by Sarah Essbai. Data linked to sources.