Picture the Riva Degli Schiavoni along the St. Mark's Basin in Venice.
The smell of fresh Italian bread floats from the umbrellas of waterfront cafes, and soft music meets your ears along the promenade home to bronze monuments and historic buildings, markets, concerts and the casual Sunday stroll.
Or picture the red-brick buildings of Amsterdam huddled together along the shore where cultures collide at coffee shops, and yellow streetlights glow above the water.
After traveling the world with the architecture program at Ball State University, young architects Nick Hoch and Hillary Parker think having three rivers near downtown Fort Wayne could give us the waterfront feel of Venice or Amsterdam.
They’re working with city planners this summer to show us what that might look like by taking the SWA Group’s plans for riverfront development to the next level.
The SWA Group was assigned to Fort Wayne’s riverfront study in 2013, and they’ll be getting some ideas from Hoch and Parker who will be at the Envision Fort Wayne Center at 916 S. Calhoun St. until Aug. 18 to get feedback on their designs.
If you miss the chance to meet them in person, you can still see their work at the Center until October when the SWA Group will present their final concept plans for the riverfront.
When you look at Hoch and Parker’s ideas, you might see some inspiration from other cities, but they’re not trying to make our city into something it isn’t. Actually, they’re trying to help us become more of what we are and discover our true identity in the three rivers.
“Having three rivers near downtown is an advantage,” Parker said. “I’d like to see us play on that more and really hit it home.”
The architects think we could hit it home by having a civic engagement center at the confluence of the three rivers near downtown.
New York has the Empire State Building. Indianapolis has Monument Circle, and with the right piece of architecture where our three rivers come together, Fort Wayne could have its own much-needed identity marker.
“As a designer and planner, I want to see one, iconic image that tells our story,” Hoch said.
Now 24, he grew up in Fort Wayne, and he met Parker, 22, of Muncie at Ball State University where the pair went on a world tour, visiting 26 countries and about 70 cities in one semester.
Both students say they are inspired by their travels, and they will be going back to school this fall to continue their educations — Hoch to Oregon to work on a second masters degree and Parker back to Ball State.
One place that inspired Hoch for a civic engagement center at the confluence of the rivers is the Plaza de España in Seville, Spain.
It’s a mixed-use public square that pays tribute to the country’s history with monuments, statues and fountains.
Hoch thinks Fort Wayne could have a similar space at the confluence of the rivers that pays tribute to the city’s past as we move into our future.
“If you think about it, we’re writing a new chapter of history,” Hoch said.
He and Parker like the SWA Group’s idea for a balance of ecological, recreational, civic and commercial use along the riverfront, and they think different uses will attract different groups of people to the space, making it a public melting pot.
“It’s a meeting place outside the work and home environment,” Hoch said.
Pam Holocher, deputy director of planning and policy for the city, said she hopes a diverse atmosphere develops along the riverfront, and she thinks Hoch and Parker have the vision to make it happen.
All three envision a waterfront where blue collars and white collars, townies and tourists weave around each other in a sea of faces, and you get “that feeling” you might recognize from cities like Chicago where there’s almost palpable energy in the air.
“In big cities, you’re rubbing shoulders with everybody, and you feel like you’re part of something,” Holocher said.
But it’s not just the architecture that has the potential to give Fort Wayne that diverse, urban atmosphere. The seeds to grow the feeling Holocher has in mind are already being planted as members of all generations work together to develop ideas at the Envision Fort Wayne Center.
If we can use these riverfront plans to span the generational and other gaps that divide us in Fort Wayne, we have the opportunity to create a stronger culture here and finally find our identity in something that brings us together where the rivers meet.