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


Just because your waterfront is generating some interest, that's no excuse to coast (ha ha). The best way to ensure continued public interest is to offer a little something new from time to time, as your budget allows. This could be a new structure, a new program, or renovations and improvements on existing features (particularly if you don't want to get any bigger or don't have room left to grow).

In the early days of the Naperville Riverwalk, something new appeared every year, but these days the focus has shifted to filling in gaps that were never completed and reconstructing and rehabbing the earliest components. However, there's talk of constructing a companion walk on the south side of the DuPage River.

"We're not done by a long shot," Hitchcock said. "We have made a policy commitment to continue rehabbing over the next 15 to 20 years so that [the Riverwalk] not only maintains but increases its value to the community."

Involving the community in the decision-making is another way to keep them active and interested in the waterfront scene. "Our city continues to work on its master plan with input from residents, businesses and community leaders," noted Grand Haven's Cisneros. "We will continue to look at better ways to utilize our waterfront and maintain a balance of environment, business, resident and visitor."

This balance she speaks of is a final key component in a successful waterfront. "I think the balancing act for us is to keep the waterfront area useable, attractive and accessible to residents, but also recognize that it's an extremely popular tourist destination," said Santa Barbara's Bridley. "We could offer something every weekend to attract more folks and fill hotels. That would thrill the Chamber of Commerce, but we don't want to do that to the point that residents don't even want to go."

But don't write off your tourists either—hence the balance. "Our waterfront area is appreciated by all and used by both residents and visitors," said Cisneros. "Tourism has an estimated $47 million annual impact on our community. …It is big business for a small beach town, but residents most definitely take time to enjoy this great harbor town they call home. You have to remember that many of the residents here today are visitors who decided to make it more permanent."