Revitalizing the Waterfront

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ImageA thriving and active waterfront has been a common thread for great cities and urban centers, though the relationship of cities with their waterfront has undergone a series of transformations. In the industrial era, manufacturing and maritime activities such as shipyards, warehouses, and heavy industries dominated properties along the water, which served as an important transportation corridor. Today, in the post-industrial era, many cities are realizing the potential of reinventing waterfront properties.

In a webinar on January 10 hosted by the World Bank’s South Asia Urbanization Flagship Project in collaboration with the East Asia and Pacific urban team, speakers and participants from around the globe discussed challenges, strategies, and successful practices in waterfront redevelopment through a series of case studies. Five essential ingredients emerged:

  1. A strong vision generates a sustainable impetus for development. Urban development initiatives often stretch over decades. Therefore, it is important that the guiding vision is inspiring, adaptable, and dynamic to continue to sustain interest from the community, private sector, and political representatives. Richard Marshall of Perkins+Will emphasized reinforcing the power of place to reposition cities like Shanghai globally, along with a realistic development timeframe, often over two or three decades, as in the case of Abandoibarra, Spain, which took 30 years to develop the Guggenheim Museum.
  2. Institutional autonomy, resilient to political changes, is vital for fruition of development initiatives. Project plans often get derailed due to uncertain political outlook or changes in bureaucratic institutions. Cities such as New York (Battery Park City Authority), Melbourne (Docklands Authority), and Sydney (Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority), among many others, created separate entities which were given significant control over land, asset management, financing, and development programming. Bonnie Harken of Nautilus International Development Consulting illustrated advantages of an independent Battery Park City Authority (BPCA), a public benefit corporation, successful in undertaking development over five decades across changing administrations.
  3. Land use planning with mixed-uses creates long-term viability and quality of place. Inappropriate and incompatible land uses along waterfronts are missed opportunities leading to large revenue loss to any local municipality. Most renowned waterfront areas represent 24X7 uses -- a combination of office space, business centers, institutions, and community centers, which generate activity during the day, and retail, recreational and residential uses, which come to life in the evening. Waterfront developments also provide unique opportunity to showcase the maritime industrial past. In Gantry Plaza State Park of New York City, historic gantries have been incorporated into a four-hectare publicly accessible waterfront esplanade, which is part of a 30-hectare mixed-use development on a previously industrial site.
  4. An inclusive stakeholder engagement in the development process is crucial. One of the main challenges of waterfront development is displacement of existing population and businesses from the project area. It is imperative to include these stakeholders early on in the planning and design of the future proposal. Michael Grove of Sasaki Associates described outreach efforts, during the visioning process of Fuxing Island Development in Shanghai, with academic institutions, young professionals, industry experts, medical suppliers, private developers, and government. The discussions provided insights into the market demand, for instance, from university campuses seeking new land for expansion beyond the city core or young entrepreneurs needing business incubators. Early engagements with stakeholders allow practitioners to target relevant employment sectors and incorporate affordable housing in land use programming.
  5. Public-private partnership has often paved the way for successful implementation. Public institutions face limitations in terms of financial and institutional capacity, human resource constraints and competing priorities. The potential to transform waterfront properties from low-value real estate into highly visible profitable development venture tends to attract the private sector. Cities could effectively use the private sector to lead the way in multiple areas-market analysis, land use assessment, financing, or operations. For example, BPCA uses a private developer to operate and maintain leased parcels. This partnership generates annual profits to the tune of $100 million.


In South Asia, reinventing and repurposing properties along waterfronts of rivers, canals, and bays presents enormous social and economic opportunities. Most countries in the region have strong cultural, religious, and social ties to water. Improving urbanization and access along this natural asset through effective land management, strategic partnerships with stakeholders, and projects sensitive to local communities, could elevate these currently decrepit areas into regional and global growth nodes.

If you missed the webinar, you can watch the recording by clicking here. The webinar leads to many follow-up questions, which we will continue to discuss on our Community of Practitioners (CoP), “Shaping the Urban Future of South Asia” website. The CoP is a forum for policymakers and practitioners interested in sustainable urbanization of the South Asia region. We also welcome academics and experts from interconnected disciplines who are interested in being part of this exciting transformation. To join the CoP, “Shaping the Urban Future of South Asia” website, see the instructions below.

Log-In instructions for World Bank Employees:

Step 1: To register yourself in the Collaboration for Development website, click here, and log-in using your UPI and passkey.

Step 2: Request membership to the Community of Practitioners (CoP)-Shaping the Urban Future of South Asia, by clicking here.

Log-In for instructions for Non World Bank Users:

Step 1: To create a new account for yourself in the Collaboration for Development website, click here, and create a profile under: "New User - Register on C4D".

Step 2: Request membership to the Community of Practitioners (CoP)-Shaping the Urban Future of South Asia, by clicking here.


                         Battery Park City, New York


Photo courtesy of Sasaki Associates and Hartness Vision

                                    Fuxing Island, Shanghai



                                    Behind the scenes


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