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The Regeneration of Urban Riverbanks: A Dilemma Between Environmental and Social Issues

Lessons from French and Brazilian Case Studies

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Part of the Cities and Nature book series (CITIES)


In this research, we investigated the environmental as well as social impacts of the regeneration of urban riverbanks and waterfronts, localities previously occupied by port-industrial activities established during the twentieth century or earlier, but more recently abandoned and occupied by informal housing and wasteland or brownfield land. The urban plans and strategies of metropolises as well as of medium-sized cities have become increasingly underpinned by the “paradigm of attractiveness,” in a context of globalization and competition between cities at an international scale. In order to become more attractive for investment, mainly foreign direct investment, cities need to improve their image and their international ranking. The recycling of the abandoned wasteland in these areas has become a policy priority. Under the banner of sustainable development, strategic plans in many cities throughout the world have thus promoted flagship projects for the regeneration of these waterfront areas, incorporating new environmental amenities.

However, the implementation of such planning strategies reveals significant conflicts within local planning policies: such projects seem to be difficult to reconcile with “the right to the city,” following Henri Lefebvre. Indeed, these projects have not avoided the problem of gentrification, but have reinforced urban socio-spatial segregation. We illustrate these conflicts and the lack of social sustainability in such projects where significant environmental issues are concerned, using three case studies, two in France (Nantes and Bordeaux) and one in Brazil (Recife).


  • Wasteland and brownfield land
  • Regeneration of waterfronts and riverside landscapes
  • Planning strategy and urban marketing
  • Attractiveness
  • “Right to the city”
  • France
  • Brazil

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  • DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-74882-1_11
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Fig. 1
Fig. 2

Source F. Ducasse, B. Broustet: 1970–1995 Bordeaux—Ombres et lumières. © François Ducasse)

Fig. 3
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Fig. 5

© Mila Montezuma


  1. 1.

    This program brings together Portuguese-speaking and French-speaking researchers and practitioners in town planning. It is supported by French-speaking and Brazilian associations bringing together training and research institutes in town planning. This program gives rise to bi-annual meetings in Europe and Brazil. Our chapter supplements and updates the work that was presented during the Salvador de Bahia meetings in 2016, published in the proceedings of this meeting (Carrière and De la Mora 2018).

  2. 2.

    Wasteland, located along the rivers, as defined here, can include brownfield land, but also areas that have not been developed. Both types exist in our three cases.

  3. 3.

    Consultation: 2020/05/25.

  4. 4.

    However, this does not preclude a high concentration of people in informal dwellings, as is the case of the favelas of Recife; a majority of them being located in high-risk areas (slopes, flooded areas…) along the rivers.

  5. 5.

    Or, in English, a “mixed economy company,” meaning a private law company whose capital is mainly of public local origin.

  6. 6.

    A public financial institution, responsible for collecting the savings of the French population.

  7. 7.

    In 1789, at the time of the French Revolution, Bordeaux was the main French port.

  8. 8.

    The PREZEIS, or “Regularization of Special Zones with Social Interest Program,” is designed to rehabilitate and redevelop favelas and informal precarious areas, allowing their inhabitants to continue living in their homes.

  9. 9.

    The proposed objective is to halve the traffic on the shore, which in 2000 reached 80,000 vehicles per day.

  10. 10.

    «Exploiter la dimension scénique et paysagère».

  11. 11.

    TGV is the French acronym for high-speed train.

  12. 12.

    The Urban Community of Nantes is the old structure of intermunicipal cooperation that existed before the creation of the Metropolis in 2015, including 24 communes, with 646 522 inhabitants (2017), while the whole urban area includes 108 municipalities and exceeds 960,000 inhabitants (8th largest in France).

  13. 13.

    The CUB, transformed in 2015 into a metropolis, includes 28 municipalities in the Bordeaux agglomeration with just over 750,000 inhabitants, while the whole urban area includes 255 municipalities and exceeds 1,232,000 inhabitants, in 2016 (5th largest in France).

  14. 14.

    For more details (and a map) on the spatial distribution of precarious housing in Recife, see Carrière (2018).


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Carrière, JP., Farthing, S. (2021). The Regeneration of Urban Riverbanks: A Dilemma Between Environmental and Social Issues. In: Di Pietro, F., Robert, A. (eds) Urban Wastelands. Cities and Nature. Springer, Cham.

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