What Makes a Great Waterfront?
Poughkeepsie's waterfront is ready for a transformation.
Once a place for industry and transport, the waterfront now boasts the Walkway over the Hudson, which has more than half a million visitors a year. Our waterfront is a diamond in the rough that will need investment and vision to make it truly shine. To start, we need to understand what makes a waterfront great.
Project for Public Spaces (PPS) is an organization dedicated to "placemaking", helping communities make the most of public spaces, including waterfronts. They teach us that many cities "have reinvented shipping and industrial areas on their seafronts, riverfronts, and lakefronts"; however, "too often they have replaced them with exclusive residential enclaves or dull 'scenic' walkways."
They recommend the following steps to develop a great waterfront:
"MAKE SURE PUBLIC GOALS ARE THE PRIMARY OBJECTIVE"
Successful waterfront development recognizes that the waterfront belongs to the people of the community, first and foremost - "Waterfronts everywhere are too valuable to simply allow developers to dictate what happens there."
"CREATE A SHARED COMMUNITY VISION"
A community visioning process is a flexible process by which residents can determine change using a set of agreed-upon goals. The process allows for small changes that build confidence and momentum, and then drive public desire for larger changes down the road.
"LOOK FIRST AT THE PUBLIC SPACE"
Design, positioning, and how public spaces connect with others; this is what governments and developers should prioritize first. The focus should be on multi-use spaces, and plans should favor walkways over parking and other car-centric development.
"BUILD ON EXISTING ASSETS & CONTEXT"
At this step, the development of the waterfront can consider what is already there, taking into account past uses of the site, and how the development of the waterfront can connect it to nearby neighborhoods.
"CREATE MULTIPLE-USE DESTINATIONS BY TAPPING THE POWER OF 10"
PPS points to "The Power of 10", which centers on having 10 great destinations on a waterfront (as opposed to simply an abundance of passive parkland) as a way to drive the success of a community visioning plan. Being able to point to a significant number of activities in place helps to make it more of an attraction for members of the public.
"CONNECT DESTINATIONS ALONG THE WATERFRONT"
This element draws on what comes before it, focusing on connectivity between multiple destinations along the waterfront, prioritizing public amenities. This connectivity is aided by development that favors pedestrian and bicycle traffic over automobiles. It also relies on mixed uses (recreation, retail) and partnerships between public institutions and local business owners.
"MAXIMIZE OPPORTUNITIES FOR PUBLIC ACCESS"
Limits to public access no matter how small a section, can interrupt the connectivity that we know are vital to successful waterfront development. "Waterfronts with continuous public access are much more popular than those where public space is interrupted."
"BALANCE ENVIRONMENTAL BENEFITS WITH HUMAN NEEDS"
Efforts to protect or salvage the marine ecosystem are important to waterfront development, but should not rule out elements that will enhance public enjoyment, like boardwalks and picnic areas.
"START SMALL TO MAKE BIG CHANGES"
An inaccessible waterfront that remains inaccessible to the public simply because it is currently undeveloped is a hindrance to future progress at a waterfront site. Keeping the waterfront accessible even while it remains undeveloped is key to moving toward achieving development that will be welcoming and enjoyable for all of the community and that considers the community's desires as a whole. "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."