Back to the River: The Thames River connects Londoners to their history, their future, and each other

Jul. 26, 2016

When London Community Foundation embarked on the journey of revitalizing London’s beloved Thames River, our hope was to mobilize the community and catalyze change. An invigorating journey that connected us to the community in a way we never have before, Back to the River was a monumental initiative for the Foundation.


The design competition kicked off in May 2015, attracting international attention. The Foundation received 300 expressions of interest from all over the world! Our group of expert jurors selected five top flight designers from across North America who were tasked with envisioning a bold, dynamic revitalization plan that reimagines our relationship with the river.                     

To engage Londoners in the project and hear their visions for the Thames, the Foundation hosted a series of community consultation sessions. What we heard was that Londoners care deeply about the Thames. Though we may have neglected the river in recent years, it is evident that Londoners care about its future. We heard citizens express their hopes and dreams for the Thames. In fact, many participants expressed that they feel as though they don’t engage with the river as much as they would like to. A community initiative at its core, we wanted to engage Londoners throughout the entire process. London spoke and our jurors listened.

After getting to know our city and working with the feedback provided from our community consultations, the five finalists presented their designs to a crowd of over 400 Londoners at the Western Fair Grounds in October. The future of London’s Thames has never looked brighter. Bold, dynamic and innovative are just a few words that describe the design plans presented that evening.

On November 2nd, 2015, the competition finally came to an end as the winning team, Civitas & Stantec, “Ribbon of the Thames”, was announced. Months in the making, this milestone marked the beginning of a journey to strengthen Londoners’ connection to the city, its heritage and each other.

Through Back to the River, the Foundation had a vision to mobilize our community, enhance downtown and bring our community back to the core of our history and heritage: the Thames River. Thanks to the City’s $5 million commitment in its multi-year budget and action in moving forward with an environmental assessment, our dream will become a reality. Following the environmental assessment, Back to the River will continue to move forward with the inaugural project at the Forks of the Thames. Additionally, the Foundation will begin to explore funding options for the second inaugural project in the SoHo neighbourhood. Designed to complement the City’s other strategic initiatives such as the Downtown Plan, London Plan and the Flex Street, Back to the River will play a significant role in the revitalization of the downtown core.

We thank our partners, the City of London and the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority, for their confidence and vision. We would also like to thank all those who demonstrated support for this project. The community’s engagement in this project has truly been inspiring.

The future is bright for London. This is a bold, transformative initiative that has the power to bring new life to our community. Join us as we go back to the river!

Back to the River was London Community Foundation’s first community mobilization strategy. Striving to enhance community quality of life, environmental and economic development, the goal was simple: give Londoners a place to work, to play and call home —a place that brings the entire community together.

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