Urban riverfront interventions are ubiquitous throughout the developed world, and increasingly also in the Global South. Many have failed spectacularly. We conducted a systematic review of failed riverfront interventions to draw lessons that could improve future projects. Learning from past mistakes may be more important than observing successes, because successful elements in one city may not be repeatable elsewhere, as the context and opportunity could be specific to that one city. Recognizing what did not work elsewhere may provide clues needed to improve future projects. Our results show that poorly designed riverfront interventions typically fail on several levels: a bad program, with the wrong budget and timing, no concern for local needs or context, results in an unattractive and costly intervention, with reduced to no social or environmental benefit. To create more successful interventions in the future, we should acknowledge the local context, the morphology of the river valley, the time and budget a set of solutions entail, and select uses and functions that work for a diverse crowd and provide multiple benefits, including good flood management performance and the restoration of the rivers’ natural connectivity.
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