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Feature Article - March 2017

By the Shore

Waterfronts Provide Economic Strength, Charm

By Deborah L. Vence


Waterfronts provide more than a place for people to enjoy recreational activities in the water or on land. They offer communities economic stability, character and environmental benefits, making them effective recreational amenities.

"Waterfront developments, particularly those within the public realm, are increasingly focusing on benefits that reach beyond traditional recreational metrics," said Scott Crawford, senior partner, landscape architect, and Parks and Recreation Studio director for RDG Planning & Design, an architectural firm based in Des Moines, Iowa.

Riverfronts, greenways, lakes and coastal improvement projects are considering and emphasizing the health of ecological, social, cultural, financial and built systems.

"This integrated method of planning, designing, implementing and managing waterfronts is resulting in more resilient and functional developments," he said.

Ron Romens, president of a Verona, Wis.-based company that specializes in recreation products and services, including waterfront development, noted that he has been seeing public and private entities reinventing underutilized waterfronts in order to create centers of attraction, relaxation and recreation.

"On a larger scale, communities are developing waterfronts and waterfront amenities to drive tourism, draw people out into nature, get people more active and add to the quality of life," Romens said.

"On a smaller scale we have been seeing public and private entities leveraging underutilized beaches, quarries and lakes to create a hub for active and passive recreation by creating water-based family entertainment areas designed to appeal to all age groups," he added. "Areas an entire family can enjoy to come together to recreate and get back to nature."

Valuable Amenities

Turning waterfronts into effective recreational amenities involves a lot of planning, expertise and a thorough awareness of the environment.

"Understanding and incorporating environmental systems of waterfronts into the planning, design and implementation of successful recreational amenities is critical to the sustainability of these community assets," Crawford said.

"Allowing ecological systems of the specific waterfront site to function naturally and integrating the recreational amenities within these systems rather than altering the ecology of the area demonstrate a community's commitment to environmental stewardship and is typically a more cost-effective approach," he said.

In a client example, the Principal Riverwalk project has transformed the Des Moines Riverfront within downtown Des Moines, Iowa.

"This public-private partnership effort has resulted in over $100 million of investment in quality of life improvements and recreational amenities along the Des Moines River," Crawford said.

The Principal Riverwalk is located in the heart of the downtown area and features lighted, landscaped public spaces, world-class public art, and unique pedestrian bridges and pathways that connect 300 miles of Central Iowa trails. The project, completed in early 2013, was a gift to the city of Des Moines in honor of the 125th anniversary of the Principal Financial Group.

"Not only is Rotary Riverwalk Park a unique amenity in our park system, it afforded us another opportunity to forge a partnership with the local Rotary organizations, who were the driving force behind the implementation of this project," said Ben Page, parks and recreation director, Des Moines Parks and Recreation.

"The iconic Rotary Riverwalk Park added a destination element to the relatively new Principal Riverwalk," Page said. "The playground provided a play element and family stop to the 1.2-mile loop downtown."

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