Urban Riverfronts

This article from New Geography explores the value of urban riverfronts through a focus on some cities back east; but good information for Sacramento.

An excerpt.

I recently moved from Cincinnati to Providence, Rhode Island, though I still think of the Detroit area as my hometown. All of these cities are based on their access to water. Providence, though at the mouth of an Atlantic bay, is still a river-town at heart. Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel has plans for a new and improved riverwalk, too. What can these cities learn from each other?

In the ’80s, downtown Providence was a much less vibrant and destination-worthy place than it is now. Its urban rivers were buried beneath cement, rail-lines, and acres of concrete until a public-private revitalization effort gained enough traction. Today, in its place, the 11-acre Waterplace Park hosts numerous attractions, including the well-loved Waterfire events, and is a long, winding string of paths and bridges that sprawls through Providence’s downtown.

What’s best about its place-making design is its versatility. The riverfront offers commutable routes between destinations, areas to picnic or socialize during lunch breaks, and event space throughout the seasons. Gondola rides, kayaking, and even viral pop-up installations all thrive here, making it multi-functional and inviting to a range of citizens.

Chicago, much like Providence, has revealed renderings of parks that show multi-functional, inviting public spaces for rest, socializing, jogging, and enjoying attractive outdoor landscapes. Chicago is also poised to offer kayak rentals, which would allow visitors to interact with the water’s surface, rather than simply admire it. Mayor Emanuel has plans for the riverwalk to stretch “from Lake Michigan to the confluence of the three branches,” or about 1.3 miles.

That would add a key element: in addition to being multi-functional and inviting, the riverwalk, at least within its blueprints, will be interconnected and able to serve as a pathway between all types of destinations within the city, much like Boston’s incredible Emerald Necklace. The Mayor also recognizes the huge potential for retail expansion along this stretch, something that Providence can certainly attest to.

Detroit, too, has been actively improving its waterfront. The shores of the Detroit River now include a long, inviting path for walking, jogging, or biking, with parks and features along the way. The transformation from its earlier state is reminiscent of Providence’s overhaul efforts of the ’80s, pushing the space from neglected and utilitarian to a pedestrian-focused destination for anyone in the downtown area. A Great Lakes-themed waterpark has recently been put into place, making the riverfront even more attractive to families and young people. In addition to being a long-time hub for local fishermen, the riverfront is now a destination for joggers, dog-walkers, families, and those on their lunch break in a newly recovering downtown business district….

During the blossoming years of metropolises, a river waterfront meant shipping and transportation opportunities. Today, with competition for dynamic downtown areas, the riverfront offers something else, too. Locals gain opportunities and reasons to come together as a community, and visitors, find places to enter and connect with a place… as long as riverfront cities use what they’ve got.

Retrieved September 14, 2014 from http://www.newgeography.com/content/004518-the-rise-of-urban-riverfronts

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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