Strong infrastructure makes a strong city, and advances in infrastructure are linked to the success of any civilization throughout history. Bridges, dams, roads, sewer systems, food sources, energy, and communication networks are all parts of what makes modern societies thrive, but many times these advances for human gain comes at an ecologic cost. Habitat fragmentation, changes in ecologic function, water flow disturbances, and hazardous materials can greatly change the make up of our surrounding ecosystems, which in turn harms the health of our communities. Balancing the health benefits for human needs and non-human needs could be the next advance in our infrastructural systems that can allow both to thrive.
The Nature Conservancy and the World Wildlife Foundation have recognized ecologic hotspots around the world as places of high biodiversity. These organizations claim that connecting these hotspots is essential to maintain global biodiversity as well as healthy human populations.
The Cahaba River in Central Alabama has more species of fish in one mile than any other river in the world and is considered an ecologic hotspot. Much of this can be attributed to its long stretch of free flowing waters, unimpeded by dams, but there are dams that segment the river isolating populations of fish, mussels, and snails, which weakens their gene pool and puts these species at risk of extinction. However, one of these dams is essential to the city of Birmingham’s fresh water supply.
This thesis researches the possibilities of multifunctional infrastructure that can benefit multiple species on the Cahaba River. This allows the dam to continue functioning as a dam, while providing improved habitat for multiple species, allows the river to continue flowing, and provides a place where humans can actively and passively interact with the ecology of the river.
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