Reimagine the Canals Competition and Strategy Framework

New York, USA

The New York State Canal System is a 524-mile network comprised of the Erie Canal, the Oswego Canal, the Cayuga-Seneca Canal and the Champlain Canal.

Constructed between 1905 and 1918 as the Barge Canal, the four branches of the Canal System are direct successors to the canals that New York State began building in 1817 and that established New York’s commercial primacy by connecting New York City to the Great Lakes and the American Midwest.

Today, commercial traffic is limited and represents only a small fraction of the millions of tons of cargo once shipped annually. Pleasure boating activity levels have also fallen at only half what they once were. Yet the canals and their infrastructure (including locks, guard gates, and lift bridges) require continued maintenance and investment to guarantee safe passage. In contrast to the decreasing activity on the canal itself, recreational uses along it — from hiking and bicycling in spring, summer, and fall to cross-country skiing and ice fishing in winter — have grown in popularity. To date, however, much of the Canal System’s potential to stimulate tourism and economic activity in the communities along its corridor remain untapped.


In early 2017, the New York Power Authority (NYPA) assumed control of the Canal System from the New York State Thruway Authority and initiated a strategic planning process to assure the long-term vitality of the Canal System. As part of this process, NYPA and the New York State Canal Corporation engaged Buro Happold to run the Reimagine the Canals Competition and help develop a strategy for the future of the New York State Canal System.


The competition was envisioned to seek bold ideas for infrastructure projects and programming initiatives that foster economic development and tourism, promote the Canal System’s heritage, and improve its financial sustainability.

Buro Happold has integrated innovative concepts from the competition, along with strategic conversations with stakeholders and site analysis to develop a strategy framework for the future of the New York State Canal System. The canals present an incredible opportunity for enhanced recreation, tourism and economic development through prioritized investments in visitor experience and waterway projects.

The competition aims to tap into the Canal System’s potential as an economic asset by enhancing opportunities for recreation and stimulating tourism. Image: NY State Canal Corporation


The Canal System has played a major role in shaping New York State’s economic and industrial history. Buro Happold is proud to have played a part in an initiative that will foster the economic revitalization of this engineering marvel.

The initiative will help to ensure the long-term economic vitality of the Canal System. Image: NY State Canal Corporation

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