The Waterfront Center  

Urban Waterfront Manifesto
© 1999 The Waterfront Center. This document may not be reproduced without express permission from The Waterfront Center.

Dear colleagues:

To promote sensitive, site-specific urban waterfront planning and development that reflects the individuality of each place, we, together with associates, have developed a set of principles to suggest to communities. When done right, we're saying, waterfront redevelopment projects can be exciting and transforming.

We issue our statement to counter the unfortunate tendency by some in the design and development fields given to what we term formula approaches — copying something that has worked in one place and transferring it elsewhere, or building projects unsympathetic to their unique waterfront setting. There are also cases of over-building and excessive privatization along urban waterfronts today.

The Urban Waterfront Manifesto has been endorsed already by a number of our associates. If you want to add your name to the list, please let us know.

Urban Waterfront Manifesto

Water is a defining force that fundamentally shapes the character of each place it touches. The role of water in transport, industry, sanitation and nourishment made it the raison d'Ítre of human settlement. It is a feature to be honored and celebrated — not to be treated merely as cosmetic or as just a commodity.

Waterfronts, the unique places where land and water meet, are a finite resource embodying the special history and character of each community. Urban waterfronts, like the cities they help define, are dynamic places. The last three decades have witnessed profound changes along abandoned or underused waterfronts. The trend is accelerating in cities around the globe. It applies to canals, lakes and rivers as well as coasts.

With this growing popularity comes a tendency by some to look for the quick solution, to adopt a formula that may have worked somewhere else. In the 1980's it was the "festival marketplace" fad. In the 1990's, it is the "urban entertainment district" and/or stadiums. In a time of pervading sameness and homogenization worldwide this is particularly dismaying because waterfronts above all factors give each community a chance to express its individuality and help distinguish it from others.

We, the undersigned, urge careful consideration of the following principles. They are offered in the spirit of encouraging communities to aim for distinctiveness as they undertake the challenge of converting or conserving their waterfront resources.

  • It is essential to keep in mind the inherent public interest in waterfronts, reflected in public ownership of water itself.

  • Waterfront planning should be long-range, comprehensive and holistic and should encompass all relevant disciplines. It should use all appropriate technologies and encourage a system of sustainable growth and operation.

  • Meaningful community involvement is integral to valid waterfront planning and development. It should begin early and be continuous.
  • Waterfront work is not just about economic development, is not simply a design question or only about environmental issues. Rather it is a fusion of these and related disciplines that should be sought.
  • We encourage communities to think long-term in waterfront work. Many conversions take 10, 15 or 25 years. The understandable desire to achieve instant results should be resisted in all except the smallest steps. Development over time allows a richness of character vs. the sameness of a one-time "Big Bang" approach.
  • It should be remembered that every waterfront is an integral part of a watershed consisting of creeks, rivers, estuaries or bays.

  • The best undertakings involve a partnership between the dynamism of the private sector, the stewardship of public entities and the energy of citizens.
  • Public access to and along the urban waterfront should be the hallmark of all projects, including residential developments. This means physical and psychologically welcoming access. Visual access to the water likewise should be a pervading objective.
  • It is vital that communities distinguish between learning from good examples of waterfront planning and development elsewhere and blindly copying them. Waterfront concepts and projects should flow from the nature of each place and embody its essential spirit.
  • Where possible, a diversity of uses wants to be included along waterfronts, from passive parks to vibrant commercial attractions. People of all income levels and cultures should feel welcome. Nighttime activities as well as daytime can be provided. Distinctive places for children as well as the elderly should be included.
  • Waterfronts present unparalleled opportunities for interpretation and education — of natural values, community history and culture, including notably the industrial and transportation activities that often preceded today's developments. Preserving and interpreting the tangible aspects of the history of a place provides character and meaning to waterfront development.
  • The tendency to clean up waterfronts should be approached carefully so that rich underlying values are not unnecessarily sacrificed. Preferences for uses that require access to water is important, even if they are somewhat unsightly.
  • Public art installations should be encouraged and the active participation of each city's arts community sought from the outset of waterfront planning, to ensure that artists' special way of seeing things is incorporated.

Prepared July 10, 1999
Cape May, New Jersey, USA

  • Ed Astone, Town Manager, San Francisco, CA
  • Crystal Barriscale, Beyer Blinder Belle, New York, NY
  • David Benn, Cho Wilks and Benn, Baltimore, MD
  • Geraldine M. Bolanowski, Councilwoman, City of Perth Amboy, NJ
  • Ken Boshcoff, Mayor of Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
  • Ronald R. Bourne, Bourne Consulting Engineering, Franklin, MA
  • Jim Bowen, River Valley Partners, Chattanooga, TN
  • Ann Breen, The Waterfront Center, Washington, DC
  • Peter Brink, National Trust for Historic Preservation, Washington, DC
  • Ann Buttenwieser, New York, NY
  • Kenneth W. Carruth, Township of Pennsauken, NJ
  • Erik Carson, Executive Dept., State Planning Office, Augusta, ME
  • Kenneth M. Cobb, JJR Incorporated, Ann Arbor, MI
  • Rodney A. Cobi, Ctr. for Landscape Interpretation, Port Allen, LA
  • Arthur Collins Sr., Collins Enterprises, Old Greenwich, Conn.
  • Marianne Connolly, MA, Water Resources Authority, Boston, MA
  • Douglas Coolman, EDSA, Fort Lauderdale, FL
  • Stuart Dawson, Sasaki Associates, Inc., Watertown, MA
  • Steve Durrant, BRW, Minneapolis, MN.
  • Tony Edwards, EDCO Design Ltd.
  • Jan Eversen, Glenn & Sadler Engineers and Architects, Norfolk, VA
  • R. Allen Eskew, Eskew+, New Orleans, LA
  • Nicholas Falk, Urban and Economic Development Group, London, England
  • Karen Fiene, Karen Fiene Architects , Berkeley, CA
  • David Fisher, British Waterways, Watford U.K.
  • Jennifer Fleming, Pensacola Com. Redev. Agency, Pensacola, FL
  • Ed Freer, JJR Incorporated, Madison, WI
  • Raymond Gastil, Van Alen Institute, New York, NY
  • H. Linwood Gilbert, Urban Economics Inc., Tampa, FL
  • Rick Gonzalez, REG Arcitects, West palm Beach, FL
  • James Guerra, James Guerra Architects, Elizabeth, NJ
  • Karl T. Haglund, New Charles River Basin, Boston, MA
  • Stephen Hallquist, Fort Trumbull Conservancy, LLC, New London, CT
  • Bonnie A. Harken, Harken Architects & H.L.W. Strategies, NY
  • Barry Hersh, Dames & Moore/Brookhill, New York, NY
  • Erik Hess, City of Hamilton Parks Division, Ontario, Canada
  • Nick Hollo, Keys Young, Milsons Point, NSW, Australia
  • Alan Horwitz, The Hillier Group, Newark, NJ
  • Grant Jones, Jones & Jones, Seattle, Wash.
  • Barbara Kauffman, Regional Business Authority, Newark, NJ
  • Michael W. Keller, City of Perth Amboy, NJ
  • L. Michael Krieger Esq., Port Authority of New York & New Jersey (retired), Mahwah, NJ
  • Douglas Lemle, Lemle Associates Inc., Boston, MA
  • Mark London, Montreal Parks Department, Quebec, Canada
  • Jeanne Lukenda, Carol R. Johnson Associates, Cambridge, MA
  • Larry T. Manuel, Biloxi Port Commission, Biloxi, MS
  • Ian McAskile, Maglin Furniture Systems Ltd., Woodstock, Ontario, Canada
  • Prof. Dorn McGrath, George Washington University, Washington, DC
  • Patricia Merrell, Chickasaw Bluffs Conservancy, Memphis, TN
  • Bergen Merrell Jr., Chickasaw Bluffs Conservancy, Memphis, TN
  • Joe Moseley, Shiner Moseley and Associates Inc., Corpus Christ, TX
  • Mary Ellen Murphy, Brooklyn, NY
  • Bill Neyenhouse, NJDEP, Coastal Plan & Prog., Trenton, NJ
  • Beth Nicholson, Save the Harbor/Save the Bay, Chestnut Hill, MA
  • Carole Nixon, St. Catharines, Downtown Assn., Ontario, Canada
  • Charles Norris, Norris and Norris Associates, Cambridge, MA
  • Thomas M. Norton, New York State Canal Corp., Albany, NY
  • Anne Olson, Buffalo Bayou Partnership, Houston, TX
  • Chris Oshikata, St. Paul Riverfront Development Council, St. Paul, MN
  • Slobodon Dan Paich, The Artship Foundation, Oakland, CA
  • William C. Payne, City of Chester, PA
  • Janice Penner, The Forks North Portage Partnership, Winnpeg, Canada
  • Melvin Ramos, City of Perth Amboy, NJ
  • John Randolph, Schuylkill Development Council, Philadelphia, PA
  • Dick Rigby, The Waterfront Center, Washington, DC
  • Fabian Rivera, Keyspan Energy, Brooklyn, NY
  • Thomas H. Robertson, Cranston, Robertson, & Whitehurst, PC, Augusta, GA
  • Monty Robson, City of Wichita, KS
  • Harriet B. Saperstein, Consultant, Detroit, MI
  • Joseph Schachter, Concrete Flotation Systems, Inc. (retired), Westport, CT
  • Capt. Bill Sheehan, Hackensack Riverkeeper Inc., Teaneck, NJ
  • John R. Sherwood, The Sherwood Consultancy, Annapolis, MD
  • Carol Sondheimer, Dept. of Economic Development, City of Poughkeepsie, NY
  • Scott J. Spota, J.C. MacElroy Company, Inc., Piscataway, NJ
  • Michael L. Stark, President, Shawnee Run Greenway, Inc, Columbia, PA
  • Robin Stein, City of Stamford, CT
  • David Stones, The Forks North Portage Partnership, Winnipeg, Canada
  • Greg Swanzey, The Schooner Ernestina Com., New Bedford, MA
  • Prof. Athena Tacha, University of Maryland, College Park, MD
  • Gail Thomas, The Dallas Institute, Dallas, TX
  • Sandra Threlfall, Waterfront Coalition, Oakland, CA
  • Aaron J. Tuley, Ctr. for Landscape Interpretation, Port Allen, LA
  • Fred Were, Waterfront Dev. Corp., Ltd, Halifax, NS, Canada
  • Rick Wiederhorn, Port of Oakland, CA
  • Paul Willen, New York, NY
  • Marilyn Williams, The Forks North Portage Partnership, Winnipeg, Canada
  • Helen Wilson, Conservation Heritage Design, Sydney, Australia
  • Kathy Wine, River Action, Inc., Davenport, IA
  • Colin Yasukochi, Hawaii Dept. of Econ., Dev., & Tourism. Honolulu, HI
  • Arthur Ziegler Jr., Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, Pittsburgh, PA
  • Susan Zusy, RTKL Associates Inc., Baltimore, MD

Want to add your name to the growing number? E-mail us at

  e-mail:        © 2005 The Waterfront Center
Content and photographs on this site may not be reproduced without express permission from The Waterfront Center.