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Feature Article - April 2016

Making Waves on the Waterfront

Recreational Amenities in and Near Water See Surging Interest

By Chris Gelbach


Standards for Sustainability

To help guide waterfront efforts that spur environmental benefits as well as community interest, a variety of newer rating systems and standards are increasingly being adopted. One is the SITES rating system from Green Business Certification Inc., which also administers the LEED program. SITES looks at performance measures for landscapes relating to their effects on water demand, stormwater runoff, wildlife habitats, air quality, recreation opportunities and other measures.

It is becoming more common for new beach areas, peninsulas and islands to be built to create new waterfront real estate.

Another measure, WEDG (the Waterfront Edge Design Guidelines) was released in January 2015 by the New York City-based Waterfront Alliance. The incentive-based rating system aims to create waterfronts that, according to the group, are "more resilient, environmentally healthy, accessible and equitable for all."

In fact, disasters such as Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Katrina have played a role not only in spurring efforts like these in recent years, but also in reshaping waterfront design. According to Crawford, these kinds of disasters have led the Army Corps of Engineers to move from a focus on things like channelization and locks and dams and levees to a more natural approach.

"Unfortunately, I think it took a disaster at the level of Katrina to push this initiative forward of trying to return to entire corridors where rivers can meander freely during high-flow and low-flow times—to return to those wetlands, pothole prairies and other areas where the river can ebb and flow in elevation as well as the horizontal span to help control those flood measures," Crawford said.

Regardless of the application, flood considerations play a major role in project materials and design. This is evident in Smale Riverfront Park, portions of which are located within and above the floodplain. The first phases of the project built were those above the floodplain, with the latter phases opening over the past few years.

Some of these amenities include spaces for park programs and a destination adventure playground. The newer spaces are specifically designed to be resilient in the event of flooding, and in some cases even removed. "We have a number of pieces of art that are detachable, and there are also two fountains in the flood plain that can be shut off and are valved so that water can't go back into the system," Dawson said. "So they have a whole flood action plan as part of the operation and maintenance of the park."

In some cases, floodplains can even present the opportunity to introduce an environmental education element into a park design. Crawford noted the Iowa River Landing Wetland Park in Coralville, Iowa, as an example. The park and wetland along the Iowa River, completed in May 2013, includes a 2-acre pond and a 12-acre park featuring a variety of wetland landscapes. "It actually gives people the opportunity to get up over the wetlands during a flood event through a series of walkways [made of metal grating]," Crawford said. "So it's providing a great educational opportunity as well as an environmental benefit to the area."

It is also becoming more common for new beach areas, peninsulas and islands to be built to create new waterfront real estate—such as the proposed Hudson River Park island in New York City. The Site Design Group recently worked on a shoreline expansion project near Chicago's Fullerton Avenue that created 5 new acres of beachfront land. The lakefront wall there was decades old and needed replacing, and the location's bike path needed to be realigned because the curved path there created too many accidents.

The new acreage in turn provided an opportunity to turn a dilapidated old theater on the lake into a forthcoming repaired amenity where there will now be room for concerts and other events. "Taking a capital improvement project that had to happen and turning it into something that had multiple facets of benefits was the great outcome of that one," McCauley said.

The firm is now working on a floating barge for a brewery and distillery that, when complete, will offer a pool, dining facility and recreation spot on the water that people can access via water taxi.

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