Transitions in Urban Waterfront

  • Anne Taufen, University of Washington Tacoma Urban Studies
  • Ken Yocom, University of Washington Seattle Landscape Architecture 

In cities throughout the Pacific Rim, waterfronts are hybrid spaces of transition and development. Urbanization has wrought profound environmental damage in these zones of previously rich biotic life and primary productivity; additionally, the social, economic, and environmental benefits that waterfronts enable and support are unevenly distributed among human populations of urban regions, so that they are sites of accumulated inequity, accessible and generative for a relatively small percentage of the people living in a metropolitan area.  Because waterfronts and in particular their maritime and port functions have been shaped by dominant patterns of competitive development, many coastal cities have struggled to reclaim the regional bio-function and broadly shared cultural values of these urban spaces. This working group sets forth an agenda for better understanding changes underway for urban waterfronts on two key dimensions: performance and access.

 Performance encompasses the mechanics of what happens in waterfront spaces, including typological configurations of economic performance (shipping, trade, tourism, retail); environmental performance (species diversity, catchment morphology, biological health); and social performance (parks, trails, open shorelines, docks). Performance acknowledges that some uses will be prioritized over, or negotiated against others, and helps to illustrate, in empirical terms, the trade-offs involved. Access adds an explicit equity frame to such assessments, helping to surface the values that underpin typological distinctions among different waterfront configurations. Hierarchies of access will be examined through analysis of performance typologies, and also, importantly as they relate to discourses of development, politics, design and sustainability, and to governance structures and institutional norms that reach far beyond the scale of the waterfront itself.