Feature Article - March 2009
Find a printable version here

Drawn to the Water

How Aquatic Settings Can Become a Community Gathering Place

By Jessica Royer Ocken


Start Small

Once you start the discussion, possibilities for waterfront amenities are myriad, but they can also be expensive. Don't feel like you have to create and construct everything in one phase. The Naperville Riverwalk, which today has five or six miles of trail, began with a mere 800 feet.

"Start small," urged Jodie Milkman, vice president of marketing and programming for Penn's Landing Corp., the nonprofit that manages the waterfront in Philadelphia. "Once you gain momentum it's easier to move on from there."

Grand Haven's Cisneros agreed: "Have an overall vision [and] master plan, but implement that one piece at a time."

Although grand plazas, amphitheaters and marinas may capture the public imagination, it's the basics like bathrooms, parking and easy access that will help get your waterfront recreation area off the ground.

"Funding limitations in developing [Roberts Point Park, a waterfront highlight,] initially required the use of portable restrooms," said Port Aransas' Mysorski. Some 20 years later, the city has just completed permanent restroom facilities as part of a recent renovation project.

"From the very beginning, keep in mind the planned use of the park area—special events, picnics, sports, tournaments—and plan the appropriate amenities accordingly," Mysorski suggested. "Then adapt as necessary and as funds are available."

Another not-to-be-missed basic? Signs. Any time you're creating a new public space, "what makes it special or interesting for visitors is to include signage," said Santa Barbara's Bridley.

There's wayward signage, which helps people know where they are and where they might want to go, and also educational signage, which lets them know what they're looking at. Santa Barbara's waterfront includes signs showing antique photos of Stearns Wharf when it was developed in 1800s, and telling the story of its development.

"In the harbor along the walkway we have signs about the commercial fishing fleet—what they do and what they fish for," Bridley added. "I look out my window and see people standing and reading those signs all day long."