Urban Edginess

Where the City Meets its Future.

Category: Urban Waterfront

Public Space in Informal Settlements in Bangkok: Bottom up Planning.

English: Wat Arun Bangkok View Photo D Ramey L...

English: Wat Arun Bangkok View Photo D Ramey Logan ” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bangkok a city of contrasts.

Bangkok Thailand is a city of gleaming skyscrapers, elegant shopping centers, spectacular temples and picturesque neighborhoods surrounded by vast areas teeming with those who have left somewhere else in hope of somehow securing a better life. Many of these migrants huddle in informal settlements of often self-built shelters, mired in poverty at times as great as that they have left behind. But, they have two things going for them. One as old as ever in the hearts of most immigrants, hope. The other just as old but requiring renewal wherever the poor and destitute gather, the urge to build a new sense of community where they now choose to live. Few things focus a community’s sense of itself better than its public spaces. In Bangkok today several communities of poverty-stricken migrants, aided by governmental and private organizations, have begun to coalesce around improvements to their public spaces.

Bangkok is a riverine city located on at the center of a vast floodplain. It became Thailand’s capital 300 years ago because its rivers and streams, marshes and wetlands appeared to afford superior defensive capability and better trade and commerce opportunities than the nations prior capital located a few hundred kilometers to the north destroyed by the Burmese, traditional enemies of the Thais.

The internal combustion economy prompted the filling in of many of the canals, wetlands and minor streams to accommodate the motor cars and the industries dependent upon them. Except for the extensive industrial port complexes and a few luxury hotels the city turned its back on its rivers and few remaining canals leaving them as little more than refuse strewn sewers.

Migrants and Informal Communities proliferate.

As Bangkok grew into one of the worlds great megalopolis of over 13 million people crowding into the flood plain along the banks of the Chao Phraya river, a new type of invasion inundated the city. At first people from the rural areas of the country, then the poor of Burma, Laos and Cambodia flooded into the city looking to better their lives and to bask in the excitement and bright lights of the metropolis.

Many of these migrants pressed themselves into large informal settlements along the now mostly forgotten riversides and canals, living in often makeshift housing in extensive slums with poetic sounding names like Klong Toei, Bang Bua Klong, Managkasila and Soi Sengki. In 1997, when the Bangkok Metropolitan Area was smaller than it is today, an estimated over 300 informal settlements existed, housing more than one and a quarter million people (Pacific Consultants International Suuri-Keikaku Co.Ltd., 1997).

With the emergence of the middle class and the exponential growth of international tourism during the past few decades, attention focussed again on these forgotten waterways as underperforming resources. Slum clearance along their banks commenced as both public and private interests sought to realize their long forgotten benefits. Some of these informal communities resisted and with the assistance of both public and non-profit organizations such as Community Organization Development Institute (CODI), Baan Mankong, The Durang Prateep Foundation, Asian Coalition for Housing Rights and many others began to fight back.

Closed environments of the dispossessed.

In Bangkok, like in many other cities, there were primary issues of fundamental importance to the poor communities, such as land tenure, adequate housing, health care and public space. (not jobs so much, the migrants were there because the job opportunities were better here than where they came from. The job issue in Bangkok is one of quality not quantity).

Why is public space, about which this post focusses so important? Because public space is not just parks and open space but includes streets, sidewalks and many other means by which residents interact with each other and the outside world. It affects community and individual health as well as their prosperity. One of the hallmarks of the traditional slums is that they are so often the closed environments of the dispossessed.

Bang Bua Throng: grasping for identity and pride.

The citizens of Bang Bua Throng, a mostly migrant community, located on the northern fringes of the Bangkok metropolitan area recognized that restoring access to and along the waterfront for the entire community could increase distribution of economic benefits to community members. It also would help to focus community identity and pride.

The Bang Bua Throng neighborhood contains about 3.400 families crowded up against the Bang Bua canal. The community, mostly on its own, formed an informal network called ‘Klong Bang-bua Environmental Improvement Network’ in 1999 that organized activities supporting the improvement of the canal and environment. They began earning money by selling recycled wastes collected from within the community. They then pooled the money to embark of community enhancement programs like, fire training for the locals. The Network also negotiated with the land owner (Treasury Department) and related agencies in support of their efforts to securing land tenure for the residents. This activism had its effect. Others took notice.

After addressing the endemic land tenure and housing issues, the community through bottom up planning and with the CODI and the Baan Mankong program’s assistance contributed to the design of a walk-way along the length of the canal. Unlike many waterfront designs, this was not simply an aesthetic venture providing a venue from which to contemplate the beauties of the adjacent canal, but a working access-way. Designed with the needs of the community in mind, it was wide enough for the movement of necessity vehicles but narrow enough to discourage it from being used as a substitute for the adjacent street. It was open for those in the community to use and enjoy as well as the residents of the city at large. It became a focal point of community pride.

Following the implementation or these programs in the community, Kuhn Prapaat a community leader remarked:

“We were a real slum before! There were drugs for sale, and lots of outside organizations did their drugs trading here. There were kids sniffing glue and paint thinner.” “ Back then, a lot of the houses were built on stilts right over the canal, and when one of these houses would collapse – which happened a lot – we would say, that is your problem, not mine!” (Slum Regeneration Bang Bua Bangkok. Veruan Blake)

Some criticism has been leveled that these initiatives like the new walk-way could encourage gentrification, as though preservation of what previously existed had some overarching merit. Gentrification is negative generally only when the existing residents fail to participate in its benefits or if it occurs with such rapidity residents cannot prepare and adapt to it.

Thonglor: ingenuity rewarded.

Other informal communities in the city also recognize the importance of public space to their revitalization. Adjacent to the Thonglor Police Station there are 43 households squatting on a piece of unclaimed land between two property walls only a few meters wide. Cleverly designed homes lean on existing infrastructure and achieve extremely high densities while also providing adequate ventilation for the residents. Narrow walkways outside of the homes have become extensions of interior space and facilitate commercial activity throughout the community. The residents exhibited additional signs of ingenuity by collectively making improvements to the public spaces with salvaged construction material. Again, their efforts have been noticed.

Plans are being made in conjunction with the International Program in Architecture and Design (INDA) of Chulalongkorn University to expand the community’s public space to create a flexible gathering space for the community to use throughout the day and provide a clear entry point to this otherwise obscured community. This space could also accommodate after-school activities for children as well seating for community meetings to further enhance their lives.

A community’s pride in its public spaces equates to its pride in itself.

Providing public spaces are not often seen by the members or a community or even outside observers as important to the improvement in the lives of low-income residents. They are sometimes looked upon as extravagances. What these two examples demonstrate is that a communities pride in its public spaces often equates to its pride in itself. Without that pride the alienation generated by poverty is not relieved. Those most successful lacking any attachment will then often leave the community and further impoverish it.

To enhance that sense of pride and identity design of public spaces should begin by building into the design the needs and wishes of the nearby community. Investment in public space should benefit the existing community directly. Public spaces should be designed to be open to all, the surrounding neighborhood as well as the larger urban area.

Community planning: Personal retrospective

Simulation - 7

Simulation – 7 (Photo credit: onestudentry)

 

Over two decades ago I had the opportunity to manage a governmental entity that among other things, was charged with resolving conflicts between development, community and environmental concerns. We developed a process, relatively novel at the time, encouraging those involved or concerned (later to be called “stakeholders”) to solve their disagreements among themselves.

 

The process required a team of technicians that could immediately turn a suggestion into a visual representation. This included someone capable of converting the discussions as they occurred into visual and organized notes for all to see. It also included a compendium of the financial and fiscal resources currently available thus forcing the participants to consider the same type of tradeoffs government and private interests must make in deciding what can be done and how long will it take. Finally it required an entity, in this case our agency, who could more or less on the spot make commitments to carry out or support with financial resources the carrying out of at least initial elements of the agreed upon program.

 

What surprised me the most was not that we were successful in almost all cases, as we were, but that despite the heated rhetoric expressed before regulatory or legislative bodies, or in the media the disagreements were so often so slight.

 

Although conflict resolution techniques and design charrettes continue to be used almost everywhere, our particular intensive program eventually fell into disuse. That was because the urban areas included in our jurisdiction were limited in number and once the specific issues in conflict were resolved in these communities they remained so for a decade or longer. Also the process was management and personnel intensive and inevitably such activities in any organization eventually are replaced by a more procedural and careerist focus.

 

Fast forward to today, modern communications technology and social networking appears to be transforming almost everything we do, from how and where we work to how we entertain ourselves and socialize.

 

In community and urban development we now have all the information we could want at our fingertips although not necessarily organized and usable. A simple internet research shows that we have a plethora online communities dedicated to community action of one kind or another. Yet what happens when these online communities conflict with one another? As anyone who has actually been involved in assisting in the resolution of significant conflicts, good intentions and talking things out are not enough. Not only must thoughts and ideas be converted into a communications medium so that each participant has the same understanding as everyone else, but immediate unbiased response on the technical facts must be available if the enthusiasm and commitment to the process is not to wither and die waiting for it. Finally the facts of the limits must be available in a usable form to the participants.

 

Social media, in regard to community planning provides an advanced medium for sharing of information and ideas and encouraging coöperation and should the participants agree collective action. However, before collective action can occur, especially for something a complex and contentious as community planning the most difficult form of group or collective action is the resolution of those conflicts that more often than not are the reason for undertaking the collaborative planning process in the first place.

 

Modern communications technology and social networks offer the promise of real resolution of community conflicts. Nevertheless, it remains a promise that needs to be addressed.

 

 

 

 

CHANGES IN THE URBAN WATERFRONT IN CALIFORNIA: Is the Working Waterfront Still Working?

The following is  adapted from an article I had written about Urban Waterfront Development over 20 years ago. Its insights remain applicable today.

INTRODUCTION:

Almost every large city with a waterfront has a waterfront revitalization program planned or operating, as do many smaller cities. From Baltimore to Seattle, from Gloucester to Morro Bay, local governments and private developers are rebuilding the troubled, often forgotten neighborhoods which nurtured the original develop ment. In California, as well as the rest of the nation, the effort is underway to reclaim deteriorated and abandoned waterfront land for other uses. The decline of many ports and concentration of port-related uses in a few large ports have made sizable amounts of land available for other purposes and have presented many cities with unparalleled opportunities to redesign their waterfronts. This paper takes a look at some cities in California undergoing this process and reviews their accomplishments. It also attempts to describe some of the problems faced by communities seeking to revive their waterfronts. Finally, an attempt will be made to evaluate California’s experience in an effort to draw some conclusions as to whether the process is providing viable or sterile waterfronts.

The Waterfront:

The term waterfront obviously includes the shoreline with its piers, wharves, and immediate onshore environs. But the waterfront also includes an area behind the shoreline proper that perhaps are two or three city blocks deep, and which contains and can contain land uses  linked to waterfront activities housed right on the shoreline. Everything from warehouses and marine suppliers to visitor-serving commercial uses and public institutions fit readily into this area. Gordon Cullen, in “The Concise Township,” described the waterfront atmosphere of the fishing-boat community of Brixham on England’s south coast:

“It is combined social and working centre; visitors promenade the quays and treat the fish market as a free entertainment; coloured sails and flags and the whirling wings of seagulls combine to create an effect—that of a busy industrial scene permanently en fete.”

The operative term here is “busy industrial scene permanently en fete,” a scene of commonplace but colorful work, perpetually in celebration. Cullen has described the quality that has traditionally made urban waterfronts such interesting, pungent environments, such a lure to people of all ages and conditions. Unfortunately, with the same phrase he also has described exactly those qualities now being sanitized out of many waterfronts by the process of prettification-for-profit.

San Francisco just before sunset. This panoram...

San Francisco just before sunset. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Decline of a Waterfront—San Francisco*

Nowhere is this lamentable process so evident as along the San Francisco waterfront. Where once there was an incredibly active scene of shipping, trade, commerce, boat building and repair, of fishing, seafood processing, and all the ship ment systems for these activities, today there remain only pockets of the former life, ghettos of real-life water-related uses. The repair yards and docks of the southern waterfront are still there, and a diminished Fisherman’s Wharf, where commercial fishermen continue to haul in their catch backstage, as it were, of the tourist show.

The bay shore is increasingly bedizened with tourist traps, tangential open spaces, hotels and motels, and within appropriate commercial and institutional uses such as law offices, ad agencies, and the San Francisco Eye Institute. Wharves and piers formerly a bustle with shipping and fishing pursuits that created what Cullen called a “combined social and working centre” have been replaced in many places with a travesty of a real-life waterfront, a public relations marketing figment of a disappearing reality.

Container shipping and automation began to take hold in the Bay Area during the 1960s, but the City and the Port of San Francisco failed to seize their potential and challenges. Consequently, for more than two decades, shipping and cargo steadily drained away to Oakland, Los Angeles, and the Northwest port cities. While automation and containerization produce, perhaps, a less colorful port environment than 19th century tars singing sea chanties or Harry Bridges leading his longshoremen against the shipping magnates, still a working seaport can be a far more interesting tourist lure than the evanescence of souvenir shops and wax museums.

The misjudgments of the ’60s and ’70s are barely beginning to be readjusted for the ’90s, conceivably too late with too little. A container facility has been proposed for Piers 30-31, where the great Matson Navigation Co. floated a flotilla of 24 or so freighters between the two world wars. Pier 50 near China Basin also has been proposed for container shipping. “Love Boat” type cruise ships still tie up on the beleaguered north waterfront, close to the Fisherman’s Wharf, and produce a $70-million-a-year business. Indeed, a recent report by the Port of San Francis co warns of losses to other port cities unless a new expansion program is under taken very soon. There will be little room for this expansion if the waterfront is increasingly occupied by non-maritime uses. San Francisco has negotiated with Israeli and Chinese cargo shippers for their use of Piers 94-96 further south along the Bay between Islais Creek and India Basin, near the industrial-military uses of Hunters Point.

This is in laudable contrast to the continuing push by developers, their design and planning consultants, and such groups as the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) for a waterfront dedicated principally to shops, offices, cafes and restaurants, tourist lures, and some housing, along, no doubt, with the ubiquitous urban decoration of information kiosks, twinkling designer lights and beguiling graphics, mini-parks, stalls for croissant and T-shirt sales, photo-opportunity sites for tourists, and places for performing mimes, all of which are more appropriate to Market Street, Union Square or Columbus Avenue than to a marine environment.

Smaller Cities:

The waterfronts of smaller cities in California, unlike San Francisco, are often characterized by little available land for redevelopment, deteriorated public facilities, abandoned or underused public and private facilities, and inadequate or even non-existent public access to the water’s edge. The scale of development is usually small, so that residential and other uses are mixed in with or very close to the main “working waterfront” activity. Small cities typically had a single primary economic activity, fishing, for example, or tourism and therefore are more vulnerable to impacts resulting from economic changes.

There is often a curious lack of public or civic imagination concerning the opportunities to revive and enhance these small city waterfronts. I believe this response is partially related to a mistrust of urban density, heterogeneity, and activity. This mistrust takes many forms, including a preference for “coarse-grained” zoning and separation of uses, self-contained shopping malls, neatly manicured if antiseptic parks, lack of sidewalk activity, and, above all, no loitering. Many small cities which possess restorable waterfronts began ask or grew into, major centers for fishing (Eureka, Monro Bay), tourism (Oceanside), or other commercial or recreational activities. A sense of its history can provide a solid grounding for a community’s restoration effort.

The two main values of the waterfront, water – or shore-related industries and public use, provide a healthy focus for restoration in small cities. The pervasive “community orientation” found in small communities is a potentially powerful asset in assuring that a restored waterfront in not a sterile or private one. For in these smaller waterfront areas, one very often finds remnants of the vitality, variety, intimacy, and informality that marked them in earlier days. The challenge in such situations is to demonstrate that economic development and environmental enhancement for the public’s benefit can complement each other and are not antagonistic. The small size and scale of development and relative simplicity of small city waterfronts may also provide a great opportunity for enhancement, not replace ment. Scarce financial resources can be concentrated on limited possibilities. Physically, such sites frequently have particular scenic qualities associated with location and development scale that call for a few fairly obvious design solutions to retain a recognizable and desirable waterfront character and to promote public access to the shoreline without conflicting with marine industry. There are sometimes opportunities for mixing economic development and public access through grade or level separations or other “controlled access” approaches. Behind such a public and marine-oriented waterfront edge, a good deal of other development might be permissible without endangering waterfront use and atmosphere.

English: The Benicia-Martinez Bridge takes Int...

English: The Benicia-Martinez Bridge takes Interstate 680 across the Carquinez Strait in California. Here Benicia is on the left and Martinez is on the right. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1. Benicia:

The historic community of Benicia lies on the shores of the Straits of Carquinez, the waterway linking San Pablo Bay and the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers. Established just before the Gold Rush as an ostensible rival to San Francisco, Benicia was California’s capital for a year from 1853 to 1854.

The departure of the capital, and the rapid rise of San Francisco 27 miles to the south as an urban, industrial, and shipping center, left Benicia with the reputation of a city of dashed expectations. But the failure to develop into a metropolis looks, in retrospect, like a boon: today Benicia is a thriving small city with 19th century ambience and unique charm.

Yet there is another far less obvious aspect of Benicia’s heritage. Just off the waterfront at the foot of West 12th Street, and visible only at low tide, are the remains of the Matthew Turner/James Robertson Shipyard, which launched 165 vessels between 1883 and 1903. It was the center of Pacific coast wooden ship building and one of the most significant shipyards in the United States in the late 19th and 20th centuries. Now it is a city waterfront park, one of California’s newest state historical landmarks, and a candidate for listing on the prestigious National Register of Historic Places. The city is working with the National Park Service, the State Coastal Conservancy, the Benicia Historical Society, and with private citizens and volunteers to create a unique historical park, archaeological preserve, and recreational facility.

The Matthew Turner Shipyard Park is a precedent for sensitive waterfront recreational development because it is cognizant of a maritime past that is not al ways tangible, but is of interest to the public. The survival, preservation, enhance ment, interpretation, and public use of a nationally significant historic site and its archaeological remains is unusual at a time of active urban waterfront development. As citizens continue to volunteer to bring about the project’s fruition, its value will continue to grow.

English: The Point Arena Lighthouse - on Point...

English: The Point Arena Lighthouse – on Point Arena in Mendocino County, California. Photograph taken from Manchester State Beach (looking roughly south).  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

2. Point Arena:

Point Arena is a tiny incorporated city (pop. 450) on California’s north coast. One mile west of town, at the mouth of Point Arena Creek lies Arena Cove. Prior to the winter of 1983 the cove supported a wharf, batik shop, fishing equipment store, fish packing house, boathouse, skiff rentals, and a café. These facilities and services attracted commercial and sport fishing boats as well sport divers, all contributing to the overall economic activity of Point Arena. The nearest ports of refuge are Noyo Harbor in Fort Bragg, to the north, and Spud Point in Bodega Bay, to the south. Each is a twelve-hour run from Point Arena.

In January 1983, storm waves ravaged the cove, destroying the wharf and fish ing packing houses and severely damaging the café and boathouse. No commercial boats could be launched from Point Arena that year, and no fish were landed. Local support business such as restaurants, hotels, and campsites in the area suffered. During the following two years, at least 35 businesses either relocated or closed. The devastation caused by the storm, coupled with the decline of the area’s logging industry, proved extremely debilitating to the local economy.

To redress this state of affairs, consensus grew in the community that the cove should be developed into a full-scale commercial fishing and recreational port and harbor. The city of Point Arena was not eager to be the lead agency in administering a port district, so citizens formed the Arena Port Commission, hoping to create a legal entity that could contract for public agency funding.

The Commission set in motion the procedures for the formation of an official port district. By early 1984 it was developing a phased facilities restoration for the cove.

The city located potential state and federal funding sources for the planned construction. These included the State Coastal Conservancy, California Depart ment of Boating and Waterways, the State Wildlife Conservation Board, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the U.S. Economic Development Administration. These agencies’ regulations and policies, however, required that before a final funding commitment was made, the city acquire the necessary land.

The City of Point Arena lacked the financial resources for such a purchase. However, the State Coastal Conservancy, an agency set up in part to fund waterfront restoration projects such as this, was able to provide gap funding, there by enabling the project to go ahead. It approved grants for acquisition of land necessary for the permanent reconstruction of the fishing pier/boat launch facility. This initial boost to one element of a larger waterfront plan catalyzed an economic revival in the community.

Restoration of the cove highlights the importance of any agency like the Conservancy, which can offer expert advice and critical “gap” funding to small cities. The economy of the Point Arena area was tremendously dependent upon the coastal uses of the cove. Yet the city was completely unable to take on even the beginning aspects of the restoration effort without outside assistance. By providing initial funding and helping Point Arena realize one highly visible and immediately useful element of its larger plan, the Conservancy generated the impetus for further self-help and development in the area. Before the wharf was rebuilt, many local residents viewed Point Arena as a dying community. With Conservancy funding and some technical help, a turnaround was accomplished.

Stearns Wharf, Santa Barbara, California

Stearns Wharf, Santa Barbara, California (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3. Santa Barbara:

The city of Santa Barbara (pop. 77,000) had a major economic/public access conflict regarding the future of its city-owned Stearns Wharf. The wharf was an historic and much-loved public structure that had evolved into the major regional recreational facility, but had been closed for several years because of severe fire damage and deterioration. With Coastal Conservancy assistance, the apparent conflict between maximum public access on the pier versus a self-supporting public enterprise was resolved. This accommodation arose from a regulatory stalemate in which the city and its developer claimed that the pier could not be rebuilt without a threefold increase in the amount of space devoted to revenue-generating development. The solution was a multiple-source funding arrangement, including the use of a little-known federal loan program (since defunded) arranged for by the Conservancy, as well as city and Conservancy funds. This enabled redesign of Stearns’ uses to leave three-fourths of the deck area available for free public access. In effect, the existing development “footprint” on the pier was rebuilt. The wharf reopened in October 1981, and in its first year of operation the wildly successful restoration grossed over one million dollars and was swarmed over by thousands of people who welcomed back “their” wharf.

Illustrated map/perspective of Eureka, Califor...

Illustrated map/perspective of Eureka, California, 1902. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

4. Eureka:

A final example of a small city attempting to come to grips with its waterfront problems is the north coast of Eureka (pop. 25,000). In contrast to the previous examples, Eureka has suffered the severe and successive impacts of major adverse economic shifts in its two primary waterfront-related industries, commercial fishing and timber, over which it has had little or no control. Eureka has attempted to take advantage of its architectural heritage through a program restoring the old central neighborhood immediately behind its extensive if deteriorating waterfront. Attractive as it is, this effort has not yet generated the kind of significant economic revival hoped for by the city. The city’s damp, gray climate and disadvantageous location have limited its tourist and convention appeal. Moreover, there exists a local controversy concerning existence of degraded or threatened wetlands along portions of the city’s waterfront. These marshy areas and their adjacent uplands comprise remnants of the original Humboldt Bay shoreline that existed before European settlement. They are viewed by some as impediments to needed development, even while existing redevelopable areas remain idle.

Recently, the city apparently modified its emphasis on tourism and the kind of wishful convention-center development that has become almost a fashion for many coastal communities seeking an economic shot in the arm. Attempts are now being made to attract coastal-dependant industries that can make ready use of underused waterfront lands, even as the city continues to try various approaches to conserving its dwindling but unique wetland inventory compatible with its development needs. Stimulation of opportunities for other industrial growth, based on local strengths and advantages, may well prove more advantageous for Eureka than the tourist-oriented restorations being attempted farther south.

Conclusion

The waterfront redevelopment phenomenon reflects both private developers’ needs to maximize economic return and a widespread and deep-seated aversion to the diversity and “creative disorder” which historically characterized urban waterfronts. Meanwhile, many cities continue to grapple with the impacts of external industrial change on their waterfront industries, as well as on their own unique community outlooks. Urban waterfronts—whether on rivers, lakes, estuaries, or coastlines—face serious challenges in surviving economic and social change.Yet they also possess special opportunities for revitalization. With increasing metropolitan and small city growth, overuse of national parks, and other pressures on existing recreational facilities, redeveloping these urban waterfronts will gain in importance.

*Portions of this section are taken directly from an excellent article by Jim Burns entitled “Visions of a Vital Waterfront” (California Waterfront Age, Vol 3, No.2 State Coastal Conservancy, Oakland, 1987, pp.20-30). In that article, Mr. Bums goes on to describe the mostly ineffectual efforts by the Port and City of San Francisco and the people of San Francisco to preserve the working waterfront.

Urban Waterfront Design Principles

The following adapts an article I had written over 20 years ago. I believe its main points remain valid today.

INTRODUCTION*

English: The Santa Monica Pier and beach in Sa...

The Santa Monica Pier and beach in Santa Monica, California. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Regrettably, where people have settled on the coast, habitations, work places, and leisure places have too often ignored the fundamental aspects of the coastal environment.  The result has been architecture and urban development that all too frequently has not harmonized with its unique surroundings. Visual clutter and ecological insensitivity characterizes much of the development along America’s coastlines.

Of particular concern are the urban edges, where cities meet the sea. In California, over two-thirds of the state’s population resides in two coastal urban centers: the San Francisco Bay Area and the Los Angeles Basin. In these and other coastal urban areas, the competition for waterfront space and the need for public access to the shore exacerbate the problems of past haphazard development and present deterioration.

The problems of the urban waterfront match its potential— in the urban coastal environment, the varied physical contexts and multiplicity of needs make design a challenge and an opportunity. In contrast, design for undeveloped rural areas on the coast must take into account fewer but more, obvious considerations, such as the impact of development on views, sensitive habits, landforms, and traffic circulation.

This paper discusses some principles of urban coastal design that will hopefully guide architects, designers and planners through the process of preparing development plans. The principles are general; they are meant as building blocks. California’s efforts in coastal design development where relevant, reflect the author’s experience.

California’s Coastal Program

For the past fourteen years, the California has regulated design and development in the coastal zone, a band of land that stretches from Oregon to Mexico and extends from a few city blocks inland to as much as five miles from the shore. In 1972, California’s voters approved a citizen-initiated referendum, Proposition 20, intended to protect the state’s coastal resources. In 1976, Proposition 20 led to the adoption by the Legislature of a program for the protection and enhancement of the California coast. The creation of an agency to plan and regulate coastal development, the Coastal Commission, and one to restore coastal resources, the Coastal Conservancy, were the two most prominent features of that program.

Urban Waterfronts

In 1981 the Legislature expanded that program by adopting the “Urban Waterfront Act of 1981” and authorizing the State Coastal Conservancy to undertake and fund  restoration of the state’s urban waterfronts  “to promote excellence of design a n d [to] …stimulate projects which exhibit innovation in sensitively integrating man-made features into the natural coastal environment.” In 1983 the Legislature further confirmed the state’s commitment to waterfront restoration by authorizing the sale of $650 million in bonds to fund the program.

As a result of this intensive involvement in its coastline, California has developed an approach to urban waterfront design that provides insights into the fundamental design criteria for urbanized coastal areas. California’s coastal program has attempted to encourage and, where necessary, require designs which take into account a proposed development’s immediate and surrounding environmental characteristics. Too often, designers of coastal projects have concentrated almost exclusively on the structures themselves and their component parts, and have not given adequate thought to protection of scenic values, ecologically sensitive areas, and public access to the shoreline. The Coastal Commission has tried, therefore, to provide design parameters, an “envelope” based on the Coastal Act within which the structure must fit.

Urban Waterfront Design Criteria.

From California’s experience with urban waterfront development certain design criteria become evident Almost without exception, sound coastal design reflects development that appears to fit its setting. This does not mean that development must hide from view. Development designed for human activity can enhance a site, adding to the natural setting. But enhancement is a quality that is subject to opinion and thus difficult to treat by regulation. What one person considers an enhancement, another may consider obtrusive.

Development design along the coast should not consider a structure’s design in isolation. The primary concern should be the designs suitability for its environmental setting—a view of architecture that seems more in keeping with the oriental tradition of seeking harmony with nature than with the western tradition, of imposing human order upon the natural world. In the western tradition architects create a design by arranging a set of design elements to harmonize with each other, though not always with their natural setting. For this reason,  the aim of any coastal program should be to subordinate new construction in rural areas to its surroundings and to require new construction on urban waterfronts to be compatible with the type and scale of existing structures and uses.

Development should also encourage public use and enjoyment of the coast and wherever possible, require new development to preserve and encourage traditional coastal activities—fishing, shipping, water-oriented recreation, and other activities that are dependent on a coastal location. The Coastal Act’s designation of these activities as priority uses preserves not only the aesthetic diversity of the waterfront but its economic diversity as well.

Five Principles of Urban Waterfront Design

The key to success in urban waterfront redevelopment projects lies, in my opinion, in adherence to the following simple design principles:

Santa Barbara, California

Santa Barbara, California (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1. Public access must be a central feature. Public use areas should be made inviting in terms of size and location. Structures should be set back from public areas to avoid any sense of intrusion. Places to sit, rest, eat, and drink should be provided adjacent to and generally inland of the public area. Access areas should be linked wherever possible. Planners must be aware that if public access is treated merely as a legal requirement, which can be satisfied by providing an uninviting walkway that winds through an intimidatingly large project, the concept of public access has no impact.

2. Major public views of the coast must be protected by design. This has both public and private components. The public component requires that views of the water from public access areas should be unobstructed. If existing views of the water from a public roadway are unavoidably obstructed by development then the development should have alternative viewing areas in the design plan. Also, view corridors from public areas to major points of interest should be provided. As for the private component, wherever practical, and where it would not conflict with public views, the development should allow inland buildings a view of the waterfront For example, in Battery Park City in New York the buildings were located in such a way that a view corridor was preserved for buildings inland of the site that would normally have had their views blocked. This quite simple public requirement (or private initiative) could extend the economic values of a waterfront site beyond the first tier of buildings to inland sites as well.

3. Recreation and commercial uses (such as commercial fishing) that require a waterfront location and are not inconsistent with the surrounding area should have space allocated for their development. Adequate space within the public area will encourage these uses to locate there.

4. Radial planning. The urban waterfront should not be planned as most other areas are, in a checkerboard pattern, with industrial uses here, commercial uses there. Regular zoning should not simply be taken to the waterline. Instead, planning for the waterfront should be radial on nature, progressing from the specific to the general. It should be specific as to uses along the shoreline and more general as one progresses inland. It should begin with a recognition of the waterfront’s particular setting. What does a person need to be able to enjoy the waterfront?

5. Dynamism. The aim should be to design a beginning, rather than an end product. The design should allow the dynamism brought by people who will use the waterfront in varied ways. An over-designed plan might be easier to sell, but easily crumbles with changing uses and fashions, while a design that provides structure but allows for change is likely to be long-lived.

These design principles are not only consistent with an altruistic notion of the public good, they are also grounded in sound economics. When the attractiveness of a resource is enhanced, its value to surrounding business also increases.

It should also be kept in mind that the essential interest of the developer is to capture the complete value of the amenity. A developer cannot rationally be asked to do otherwise. When required only to conform to a general plan, a developer is led by self-interest to develop  plans that call for maximum revenue-producing space. He will discount open space and access ways along the waterfront as costly luxuries in terms of foregone revenues. Developers’ designs usually seek to force the public through their shops to view the water. The result is often a double-loaded (shops on both sides) passageway. Yet without access to open space and viewing areas, the local population will not be drawn to the waterfront, and projects are sure to be financial burdens rather than civic assets.

Urban waterfronts have received a major share of recent attention because of their historic and economic importance, their great resource value, and their importance as growing population centers. Local governments and private investors are rediscovering waterfronts as potentially valuable resources. A significant aspect of this rediscovery is that waterfront design—and designs for the waterfront—are beginning to reflect the natural advantages of the waterfront location.

Revitalization of a waterfront is linked to the city’s economic health. A city can afford waterfront redevelopment even in an age of austerity. Amenities—that is, tangible public benefits in the form of facilities, settings, and activities— benefit not only city residents, but also the city’s economic health. Amenities are now being used by public agencies as economic development tools, along with financial packaging, tax incentives, site acquisition and development, and other conventional approaches.

Clearly, the public sector has a crucial role to play in achieving compatible waterfront designs and, indeed, all coastal design. Government must play the dual roles of entrepreneur and mediator, roles not typical of government, but which it is nonetheless capable of learning. Government’s role also includes preparing the ground— literally, as well as politically and financially—for the development to come. Of necessity, government takes the overall management role in waterfront design and development. Compatible waterfront design that includes public amenities, far from being a costly luxury, is now being considered by both the public and private sector as an essential—and leading—part of waterfront development.

Conclusion.

There is room for diverse interests on the waterfront and the entire coastal edge. The need for multiple uses can be accommodated in many ways. The public sec tor—state and local government—has a basic responsibility to foster the best and most appropriate use of the waterfront and the coast. Design professionals and their clients, as creators of structures which will dot the coastal landscape for years to come, are obligated to work within public established constraints. And of course, the ultimate responsibility for preservation of the coastal edge belongs to the public.

A policy and regulatory framework can establish the boundaries within which multiple uses of waterfront land can be accommodated. Operating within these boundaries, public agencies can use the creative development approach to resolve coastal land use and design conflicts. In this way, public enjoyment and use of the coast can be achieved, sensitive coastal resources can be protected, and legitimate private investment can be made in a manner consistent with environmentally sound policies and regulations.

*Portions of this paper are taken from: Petrillo, Joseph E., and Peter Grenell, The UrbanEdge, Where the CityMeets the Sea, California State Coastal Conservancy and William Kaufmann, Inc., Los Altos, California, 1985.

Biographical Note:

 Joseph E. Petrillo played a key role in drafting the California Coastal Plan and in shaping the bills that made it law in 1976. He was counsel for the California State Coastal Commission between 1973 and 1975, consultant to the State Senate Land Use Committee from 1975 to 1977, then became the First Executive Officer of the California State Coastal Conservancy. After nine years in that post, he resigned to go into private practice as an attorney and consultant on land use planning.
ADDITIONAL READINGS

Adams, Louise McCorkle. 1981. The Affordable Coast. State Coastal Conservancy.

Adams, Louise McCorkle,and RickAdams. 1985. TheCaliforniaHighway 1 Books. New York.

Bamett, Jonathan. 1986. The Elusive City. Harper & Row. New York.

Bemier, Jacqueline. 1984. Commercial Fishing Facilities in California. California State Coastal Conservancy.

Burns, Jim, et. al. 1979. A Plan for Seal Beach. State Coastal Conservancy. California Coastal Plan. 1975. California Coastal Zone Conservation Commission.

Caputo, Daryl F. 1981. Open Space Pays: The Socioeconomics for Open Space Preservation. New Jersey Conservation Foundation.

Clark, John, et. al. 1979. Small Reports. The Conservation Foundation.

Grice, Patricia Ann. 1980. Future Demand for Commercial Fishing Berths in California. California Coastal Commission. San Francisco.

Horn, Steve. 1982. An Urban Waterfront Program for California. State Coastal Conservancy.

Minurbi, Luciano, et. al. Land Readjustment: The Japanese System. Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. Boston. 1986.

Petrillo, Joseph. 1987. Small City Waterfront Restoration. Coastal Management, Lot 15, pp. 197-212.Taylor and Francis. New York.

Petrillo, Joseph. 1987. How to Save a Resource: Negotiated Development. Coastal Zone ’87 Proceedings, pp. 2783-2793. American Society of Civil Engineers. New York.

Petrillo, Joseph, and Peter Grenell. 1985. The Urban Edge, Where the City Meets the Sea. California State Coastal Conservancy and William Kaufmann, Inc., Los Altos, California.

Petrillo, Joseph. 1984. The California State Coastal Conservancy and Conflict Resolution: Reconciling Competing Interests for Land Use in the Bolsa Chica Wetlands. Proceedings of the Coastal Society Ninth Annual Conference.

Petrillo, Joseph E., and Abigail D. Shaw. “The Conservancy Concept.” Proceedings of Coastal Zone ’85. Pilkey,Orrin, et al. 1983. Coastal Design. Van Nostrand Reinhold Co., New York.

Rosenbaum, Nelson M. 1976. Citizen Involvement in Land Use Governance. The Urban Institute, Washington, D. C.

Sabatier, Paul A. and Daniel A. Mazmanian. 1983. Can Regulation Work? The Implementation of the 1972 California Coastal Initiative. Plenum Press.

Shoemaker, Joe. 1981. Returning the Platte to the People. The Greenway Foundation, Tumbleweed Press, Westminister Co.

Squire, Peverill, and Stanley Scott. The Politics of California Coastal Legislation, the Crucial Year, 1976. Institute of Governmental Studies, University of California, Berkeley.

State Coastal Conservancy. 1985. Waterfront Revitalization: PismoBeach, California. Urban Waterfront Lands.

National Academy of Sciences. Urban Waterfront Revitalization: The Role of Recreation and Heritage, U.S.Depart ment of the Interior. 1980.

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