Malden Works for Waterfront Equity and Resilience awarded Norman B. Leventhal City Prize

Prize supports powerful collaboration among diverse constituencies in Malden, Massachusetts.

Malden, Massachusetts, is a city of neighborhoods, with a patchwork of public open spaces such as parks and historic squares. With a proposal that extends beyond these neighborhood spaces to activate an industrial area along the Malden River, Malden Works for Waterfront Equity and Resilience, an urban coalition, has been named the winner of the first Norman B. Leventhal City Prize.

The $100,000 triennial prize was established by MIT’s Norman B. Leventhal Center for Advanced Urbanism (LCAU) to catalyze innovative, interdisciplinary urban design and planning approaches worldwide to improve both the environment and the quality of life for residents.

The 2019 prize sought proposals that foregrounded “equitable resilience,” the triennial research theme of LCAU. “Equitable resilience challenges global resilience thinking, addressing urban inequities that result from climate change preparations and impacts,” says Alan Berger, co-director of LCAU. “I’m excited to see the Malden Works team’s ideas put into practice.”

Malden Works has proposed a transformation of the city’s Department of Public Works (DPW) site on the Malden River into a civic waterfront space. The project team brings together community leaders, environmental advocates, government officials, and urban design practitioners to collaborate on the planning, design, and realization of the project.

The team will work with the DPW to study and redesign the site and building operations to foster climate change preparedness, improved stormwater management, and the integration of safe public access. Running through a historically heavy-industrial zone, the Malden River has never been considered part of Malden’s neighborhoods; redesigning a portion of the river for the public presents an opportunity to demonstrate a new process for envisioning an equitable and resilient future in Malden.

With its focus on the only publicly owned parcel along Malden’s riverfront, the winning proposal resists waterfront gentrification while introducing essential climate resiliency improvements in combination with existing industrial uses and open space. The study will address a knowledge gap in resiliency planning and implementation around waterfront industrial uses, which pose a unique set of flood vulnerabilities and risks.

This project will “explore the interplay between the river as a community asset and the risk it poses due to flooding,” says jury member Jo da Silva. “It is an intervention where measurable impact is achievable.”

Both the physical transformation of the project site and the planning process will serve as precedents for realizing the community’s larger Malden River Greenway — an accessible pathway along the river for public recreation and enjoyment. They will also serve as a model for the equitable and resilient transformation of similar urbanized waterways in metro Boston and beyond.

“This project could start a much bigger regeneration project with very significant sustainable benefits for the Malden community at large,” says jury member Nick Earle.

“The Malden Works proposal was an impressive link between design, environmental health, and community engagement,” says jury member Carolyn Kousky. “There are many light industrial waterfronts around the country that have been underexamined by resilience work. The model proposed by Malden Works has the potential to scale in broad ways.”

The prize required proposed projects to have an interdisciplinary team — MIT faculty or senior research staff working in collaboration with a government agency, nonprofit, or civic leadership organization — exploring urban design solutions in service of social and environmental change.

The Malden Works project is led by Kathleen Vandiver of the MIT Center for Environmental Health Sciences, which is supported by an NIEHS Core Center Grant. The team includes Marie Law Adams of the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning; Malden’s Mayor Gary Christenson; Malden resident Marcia Manong; Amber Christoffersen of the Mystic River Watershed Association; Evan Spetrini MCP '18, a DUSP alumnus and member of the Malden Redevelopment Authority; and Karen Buck of Friends of the Malden River.

The prize jury also identified two finalists: Lawrence Vale from MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning proposed combining affordable housing with green space development and flood control in New Orleans, Louisiana. “[This idea is] an example of the sort of complex, interagency coordination that, while complicated and risky, could lead to a valuable and innovative outcome that could be shared and scaled,” says jury member Dan Tangherlini.

Mary Anne Ocampo, a lecturer in MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning, was also recommended as a finalist for a proposal suggesting improvements for low-income residents vulnerable to climate change and socioeconomic inequities within the National Capital Region of the Philippines. Jury members were impressed by Ocampo’s “longstanding commitment and passion for working with communities in the Philippines,” and commended her proposal for “its interdisciplinarity and multisectoral involvement, as well as [its] considered application of technology and design.” Further details on both finalists proposals may be found on the Leventhal City Prize website.

The jury for the first Norman B. Leventhal City Prize included Sarah Herda of the Graham Foundation; Nick Earle of Eseye; Jose Castillo of a | 911; Dan Tangherlini of Emerson Collective; Carolyn Kousky of the University of Pennsylvania; and Jo da Silva of Arup.

Since its establishment in 2013 within the MIT School of Architecture and Planning, LCAU has sought to define the field of advanced urbanism, integrating research on urban design with processes of urbanization and urban culture, to meet the contemporary challenges facing the world’s cities.

Drawing on MIT’s deep history in urban design and planning, architecture, and transportation, LCAU coordinates multidisciplinary, multifaceted approaches to advance the understanding of cities and propose new forms and systems for urban communities. Support for LCAU was provided by the Muriel and Norman B. Leventhal Family Foundation and the Sherry and Alan Leventhal Family Foundation.

Story originally published September 24, 2019 by the School of Architecture and Planning for MIT News.