The trend towards cities and towns reclaiming then revitalizing their waterfronts is usually reported as the inevitable march of time and progress.
As mixed use projects, high-end condos and boutique office space take over space once exclusive to marine repair shops, fish piers and heavy industrial uses, the battle is on to define what constitutes the highest and best use for land bordered by the sea, in such places as South Boston, Providence, Tampa and Philadelphia.
Tom Ahern, senior vice president for The Saint Consulting Group, looks at competing interests fighting for primacy in this specialized area of regeneration.
Evidence of such battles comes to us not just from battle-weary communities like South Boston, Brooklyn and the Anacostia waterfront in Washington, DC. In Providence, where the arts, restaurants and retail renaissance is now in its second decade, a growing uneasiness is brewing between traditional seaport users and developers intent on bringing the Providence resurgence to the waterfront.
A recent effort by Mayor David Cicilline to rezone large areas of the Providence waterfront as mixed-use is bringing together fishermen, oil companies, boat captains and drydock repair shops to fight for their livelihoods. The New York Times reported on the battle of Providence’s waterfont in December 2007.
In Philadelphia, a battle continues pitting traditional port users against proponents of new casino gaming parlors that are planned for areas within the port region.
And in Tampa, a debate raged over the Port Authority’s on-again, off-again plans to encourage mixed use development in the port area. The latest controversy stems from a plan by private developers to build a hotel and luxury condos on land traditionally used by port operators.
As long as citizens and business desire to locate near the water, and there certainly isn’t more waterfront land being created anytime soon, this planning and development debate will continue. What we have seen is that the developers who early on engage the citizens and public sector in their planning, and build public support for their vision, are the ones who are finding a way to break through the debate between jobs (port uses) and lifestyles (mixed use).