In our work with cities that want to bring life back to their waterfronts, PPS stresses that the key to success is layering activities into a vision for improvement that is “greater than the sum of its uses.” In waterfront projects from Hong Kong to San Diego to Memphis, PPS is working to re-integrate waterfronts (many of which have been blocked off by highways, train tracks, or fenced-off industrial facilities) into surrounding neighborhoods through a variety of means.

Today, shifts in industry have left many waterfronts unused, under-funded, and disconnected from neighboring communities. From old mill towns to former shipping ports, many urban waterfronts no longer serve their former economic and transportation functions. Though often dilapidated, today’s waterfronts should not be viewed as liabilities, but rather as opportunities to re-envision public space. By changing how waterfronts are used and managed, they can become vibrant places and symbols of the cities and towns where they are located.

For most cities, however, defining a waterfront’s identity is a huge challenge with many pitfalls. For instance, during development some waterfronts are effectively privatized with one-dimensional commercial activity, others with housing that discourages non-residents from using the space. Some are limited to passive use or structured recreation, and many have been converted to highways or other car-oriented uses that preclude public access. Since waterfronts often start out in decrepit shape, any type of development tends to be welcomed. Yet when one particular use is allowed to dominate, the long-term potential of the waterfront is degraded.

Read more about how to create a great waterfront – 9 Steps to Creating a Great Waterfront

Why is PPS different?

PPS’s approach is based on the belief that, to succeed, waterfronts must draw on a dynamic combination of activity. Though the commerce and hustle and bustle that used to characterize them may not exist anymore, waterfronts should not be passive places. Instead, waterfronts should channel their former vibrancy into a variety of uses for people of all ages, drawing a diverse population into an active, inclusive public space.

Expanding the role of the waterfront means making it part of a larger network of community places. To do this, PPS works to re-integrate waterfronts (many of which have been inaccessible to the public for long periods of time) into surrounding neighborhoods. In addition to making physical/infrastructure improvements, it is essential to engage a wide range of partners and develop collaborative public-private relationships. Partnerships with community businesses and organizations then create opportunities for recreation, tourism and entertainment that build the local economy. By extending activities and design elements inland and inviting collaboration among multiple public, private, and community organizations, the waterfront’s impact becomes more far reaching than otherwise possible.