Preservation Association of CNY On Creating A Great Waterfront

Michael Stanton, on the Preservation Association of CNY (PACNY’s) List-Serv, wonders if COR Development’s Master Plan for the Inner Harbor project is consistent with the Project For Public Spaces “Nine Steps To Creating A Great Waterfront.”

Here are the PPS steps to a great waterfront development — what do you think?

1. Look First at the Public Space: In planning a waterfront development, city officials or a developer should begin by envisioning a network of well-connected, multi-use public spaces that fit with the community’s shared goals. By orienting waterfront revitalization around public spaces, new construction will enhance the quality of existing destinations and result in a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. While streets may be appropriate on some waterfronts, pedestrian connections should be given top priority, making large parking lots and auto-oriented development out of the question. [The Inner Harbor park and amphitheater were built long before COR was chosen to develop the rest of the site, so the primary public space actually was planned first. But what about the public spaces planned for the new development?]

2. Make Sure Public Goals are the Primary Objective: Waterfronts everywhere are too valuable to simply allow developers to dictate what happens there. This is not to say that private development is unwelcome and should be discouraged – on the contrary, it is often necessary to the future of a healthy waterfront. But the best solutions for revamping waterfronts put public goals first, not private short-term financial objective. As long as redevelopment plans adhere to the notion that the waterfront is an inherently public asset, it will be relatively easy to follow the rest of the steps here. Community engagement – and, ultimately, local ownership and pride – depend on this basic premise.

3. Build on Existing Assets & Context: After establishing the public spaces and public goals, begin the public visioning process with the existing assets and surrounding context. Start with the historical form and function of the site to foster a locally grounded identity by channeling former vibrancy into a variety of uses. Existing industrial uses should be preserved when compatible with human activity on the waterfront. Surrounding neighborhoods should be integrated into the waterfront to strengthen connectivity between destinations. And new development should embrace its waterfront context with appropriate orientation and usages. [Several existing buildings will be incorporated into the design. What connections are planned to neighborhoods to the east, south and west?]

4. Create a Shared Community Vision: Unlike a master plan, a community visioning process does not lock a project into a prescribed solution. It is a citizen-driven initiative that outlines a set of goals–ideals to strive for–that set the stage for people to think boldly, make breakthroughs, and achieve new possibilities for their waterfront. Because a vision is adaptable and can be implemented gradually, starting with small experiments, it often becomes more powerful through time as public enthusiasm for making bold changes gains support. [As I understand it, now that COR has been chosen, there will be little further opportunity for community input — but maybe there is more to the process than I am aware of].

5. Create Multiple-use Destinations by Tapping the Power of 10: Through decades of work, PPS has found that the most effective way to propel a visioning process is to set a goal of creating ten great destinations along a waterfront, an idea we call the “Power of Ten.” This focus on destinations, rather than “open space” or parks, enables a genuine community-led process to take root. Residents, businesses, community organizations and other stakeholders all join in to help identify the key destinations and then define the uses and activities they want to see at each place. After using the Power of 10 to create great destinations throughout a waterfront, the same principle should be applied at each destination to come up with a list of ten activities for that spot. A wealth of things to do broadens the appeal of the destination, encouraging round-the-clock use. [What could the 10 destinations be? The western shore of the master plan is park and residential; the south shore is the amphitheater, hotel and marina; the eastern shore is retail and offices — there must be opportunity for 10 major public destinations within this mix].

6. Connect Destinations Along the Waterfront: Destinations should be connected to one another and incorporated into a vision for the waterfront as a whole. A waterfront that is continuously walkable with a variety of activities along the way will successfully link destinations, allowing the appeal of each one to strengthen the place as a whole. Creating these seamless connections is a fascinating challenge that involves mixing uses (such as housing, recreation, entertainment and retail) and mixing partners (such as public institutions and local business owners). Another key element is attracting people to the waterfront on foot or bike, rather than just in their cars. Parks or esplanades should not serve as the whole purpose of the entire waterfront. Too much passive, one-dimensional open space puts a damper on the inherent vibrancy of waterfronts, as evident in many spots throughout Toronto, New York City and Vancouver, — cities that have relied too heavily on “greening” their waterfronts without including other public activities that draw people for different reasons at different times. The world’s best waterfronts use parks as connective tissue, using them to link other high-profile destinations together. Helsinki, Stockholm, Sydney, and Baltimore have successfully employed this strategy. [This reminds us that plans for the Inner Harbor must be integrated with plans for Onondaga Lake]

7. Maximize Opportunities for Public Access: It is essential that the waterfront be accessible for everyone to the greatest extent possible. Here too, the goal of continuity is of paramount importance. Waterfronts with continuous public access are much more popular than those where public space is interrupted. Even small stretches where the waterfront is unavailable to people greatly diminish the experience. California’s Balboa Island, located off the coast of Newport Beach, makes its entire shoreline accessible to the public instead of giving waterfront property owners sole rights of use. Access also means that people can actually interact with the water in numerous ways–from swimming and fishing, to picnicking dockside and feeding the ducks. If it is not possible to actually dip their hands in the water, people should have access to another type of water nearby–such as a fountain, spray play area or a swimming pool that floats next to the shore (such as the pools set up in the Seine during Paris Plage).

8. Balance Environmental Benefits with Human Needs: While a wide variety of uses can flourish on a waterfront, many successful destinations embrace their natural surroundings by creating a close connection between human and natural needs. Marine biologists and environmentalists today promote the restoration of natural shorelines — at least where marine uses do not dominate – and advocate replacing crumbling bulkheads with natural vegetation that will improve water quality, and revive fish and wildlife habitat. But this natural restoration should not preclude human use. Boardwalks, interpretive displays, and even more active uses such as playgrounds and picnic areas can be incorporated into the shoreline design without sacrificing environmental benefits. [Will natural shorelines be restored along the western side of the harbor?]

9. Start Small to Make Big Changes: Good public spaces don’t happen overnight, and no one has all the answers about improving a place right at the outset. Placemaking is about doing more than planning. Many great plans get bogged down because they are too big, too expensive, and simply take too long to happen. Short-term actions, like planting flowers, can be a good way not only to test ideas, but to also give people the confidence that change is occurring – and that their ideas matter. [Again, will the larger community participate — in some way — in what is planned for the Inner Harbor, or will we just be spectators?].

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