In 2011, the Missouri River flooded to unprecedented levels in the Omaha region, submerging the floodplain for nearly four months, creating significant damage in both Iowa and Nebraska, and forever altering the local landscape. As floodwaters receded, communities began a process of rebuilding—but with limited understanding of this new post-flood context.
Recognizing new post-flood ecologies, infrastructure, and economies will continue to be a challenge for communities across the nation. More than half the population of North America lives on coasts and estuaries, and climate change is making catastrophic flooding a reality for more and more of us.
Two of the country's best landscape architecture programs exist within a two-hour drive of the Omaha region on either side of the river—at Iowa State University (ISU) in Ames, Iowa, and at University of Nebraska (UNL) in Lincoln, Nebraska. ISU and UNL have joined have forces with Back to the River—an advocacy organization based in Omaha—to spearhead a year-long, studio-based exploration of the flood, its impacts, and future possibilities in the river valley. Sasaki is providing professional oversight to the overall process.
The spring ISU studio, taught by Carl Rogers, recently presented their mid-semester regional frameworks at Sasaki.
ISU students at Sasaki
From precedent post-flood contexts, the students first developed a classification system for post-flood activity and a tool that maps such projects on the Missouri River. This tool revealed areas of high activity as well as those that have been neglected in the Omaha region.
In-depth examination of post-flood conditions specific to Omaha revealed some surprising ways in which flood landscapes can in fact be generative. One team examined water flow and velocity, sand deposits, and driftwood—all of which became much more abundant post-flood. Team members speculated how each of these entities could benefit the region, such as wind and hydraulic power sources, new sand-driven open space landscapes, and the reuse of driftwood as biofuel.
From this body of research, the students created regional frameworks for the river. These frameworks propose ways to capitalize on the post-flood context, such as encouraging recreational river exploration through educational signage and the idea of "river labs," which use the landscape as a backdrop for more formal educational opportunities.
The work underscores that the key to discovering and embracing opportunities in the post-flood region is to engender greater understanding among local community members and leaders.
Stay tuned for the next iteration of the effort next fall, when UNL students will work with local communities on a series of projects informed by the frameworks.
Directly across from downtown Omaha and at the foot of the newly-completed Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge, the Council Bluffs Riverfront Park is a 90-acre public park situated within the broad riparian floodplain...