Revitalizing Port Cities
Throughout history urban waterfronts have been in a cycle of transformation with diverse uses taking place on waterfronts such as fishing, defense, trade, transportation, industry, residential, commercial and recreation. Each of these activities shaped waterfronts in different ways and offered a different water-city integration model. Although every city has a different evolution period depending on its geographical features, size, economy and other local conditions, a common model of development can be determined for all port cities. This model can be illustrated from San Francisco to Sydney, from Southampton to Singapore…. Each case is unique, but the underlying principles remain largely the same.
Waterfront revitalization has been the most remarkable urban development in the world during the last two decades. As most of the world’s big city centers are located on water’s edge, revitalization of waterfronts usually refer to downtown development. Being new potential urban lands, waterfronts offer great opportunities to make contemporary pieces of cities. So, integration of those lands with the existing urban fabric is becoming an important issue of urban design and planning disciplines.
Some of the first North American initiatives of waterfront revitalization emerged in 1960s & 1970s in Baltimore and then in Boston and in San Francisco. These were the multifunctional developments that became models for the revitalization projects that emerged in Europe and elsewhere in North America. Although every development has their own objectives depending on local conditions, they share some common goals such as redefinition of waterfront’s position in the urban context, remaking the urban image and regeneration of the economy.
One of the key principles and public expectation of waterfront development is that this place should be designed for people to use. There are several reasons of this public attitude; but, the most important one is the shift of cities from industrial to service economy, which brings a new understanding of city space. There is a demand of public spaces in cities for recreational and leisure uses. Similar to the other leftover spaces, waterfronts became suitable urban lands to construct newly emerging trends of society. Therefore, recreation, commercial facilities, residential components, entertainment units, sport facilities, cultural centers and parks are evolving as the most dominant concepts in the definition of contemporary waterfronts.
Another major objective of developments is to improve urban image. One of the most important issues for cities is to remake their images both on a national and international level. Public and private leaders prefer to remove negative effects of abandoned industrial sites and/or locate new heavy industrial initiatives to outer harbours or inland industrial parks. They looked for an entirely new image to compete with other world cities. Sydney and Bilbao are two leading examples of cities that promote their waterfronts. Both cities became worldwide known cities after the revitalization of their waterfronts. Every year, approximately 15 million people visit Sydney’s (Australia) waterfront.
In addition to remaking the urban image, revitalization of urban waterfronts is also important in the economic growth of cities. After the shift from industrial, cities began to look for new economies and waterfronts became advantageous urban centers that attracted good incomes to cities. One example can be the case of Baltimore that realizes the role of capital in waterfront development. After the Baltimore Inner Harbor revitalization program, 15,000 jobs were created in addition to the development of a new tourism industry that caters to 6.5 million tourists who spent almost $3 billion in the city in 2004.
Since there is a competition between cities to attract more people and capital, cities began and continue to copy models that have been successfully implemented in other world cities in order to warranty their success. Baltimore Inner Harbor development was copied by many other world cities. For example, aquariums become the most attractive element of waterfronts schemes to revitalize the abandoned waterfronts and attract more money. Baltimore’s National Aquarium has been the number one paid tourist attraction in Maryland, drawing 1.5 million people a year, generating $128 million in annual revenues for the region, and increasing adjacent land values. Therefore, most North American cities constructed aquariums on their waterfronts after the success of Baltimore.
Such configuration of waterfront models has spread all around the world including small sized cities and towns. The standardization of the development does bring challenges particularly the need to form cooperative development initiatives and consensus with other harbour partners. The key is strategically developing the most valued asset (waterfront) while maximizing utilization and attraction (economy) as the Port City transforms itself (change).