From May 20-23, 2010, GMF hosted waterfront development experts from 22 TCN member cities at its Transatlantic Cities Forum on Waterfront Development in Genoa, Italy. At this first annual Transatlantic Cities Forum, delegates engaged in deep dialogue about their professional experiences, successes, and challenges, and identified key thematic issues that face planners and practitioners working on waterfront projects in cities on both sides of the Atlantic.
TCF delegates, each of whom was nominated by the TCN Representative in his or her home city, represented a wide range of stakeholders in the planning process, including: state and municipal elected officials and senior advisors, architects and planners in both government and private firms, real estate developers, port officials, and nonprofit leaders. Delegates were selected not only for their professional accomplishments, but for their ability to contribute to, benefit from, and multiply the impact of an intensive workshop that allowed them to step back from their everyday responsibilities to examine the public policy goals, underlying assumptions, and social and economic patterns that inform their diverse plans and projects.
The Forum kicked off with a whirlwind tour of the 22 cities represented, with each city (in some cases represented by multiple delegates) presenting its current project, including successes and obstacles, in no more than 5 minutes (Click here to access these presentations). These presentations, along with a daylong examination of Genoa’s effort to transform its harbor and its industrial port into an accessible part of the city’s commons, as well as deeper examinations of projects in Copenhagen, Birmingham, Portland, and Pittsburgh, formed the basis of a number of wide-ranging discussions that explored how the range of strategies delegates had implemented has resulted in a spectrum of outcomes in their cities. These discussions were further enriched by the delegates’ realizations that their home cities shared overlapping economic, social, and cultural profiles – especially those cities transitioning away from manufacturing as the main economic driver.
On Friday, May 21, delegates spent the full day exploring four different projects on Genoa’s waterfront, which provided an excellent backdrop against which to highlight key themes on the agenda, especially engagement of multiple stakeholders. The visits, which were organized by Genoa TCN Representative Federica Alcozer, illuminated Genoa’s bold effort to no longer “turn its back to the sea,” but instead to make its harbor and container port accessible and understandable to its residents – through physical connectivity and public information campaigns – to help unite the urban fabric with the water from which it had so long been cut off.
The day began in Prà, on the western edge of the city, where a system of canals between the land and Genoa’s container port forms the basis of a recreational area that transforms an industrial site into a recreational marina. From there the group traveled to Sestri, a high-end marina that takes advantage of its proximity to Genoa’s airport to market itself as a gateway to boating on the Mediterranean. The delegation continued eastward to the heart of Genoa’s waterfront, the Porto Antico, stopping in Cornigliano, where an old steel factory is being retooled to employ a more environmentally friendly cold steel process which will also reduce its footprint, allowing public access to the water as well as to the magnificent Villa Durazzo Bombrini, which was formerly surrounded by manufacturing facilities. Finally, the group arrived in Genoa’s bustling Porto Antico, where they experienced firsthand the interactive learning opportunities at the Genoa Port Center, which combines information developed by a wide range of waterfront stakeholders to provide a fascinating array of real-time data on Genoa’s port. The day concluded aboard the Port Center’s educational tour boat, which ferries visitors out of the harbor and west along Genoa’s container port, where an audio tour gives an overview of facts and figures and points out a number of individual port buildings and facilities.
KEY THEMES & OUTCOMES
A key observation that came out of the group’s discussions was the concept of the space where water meets land as an edge or a void, shaped not only by topography but also by the common use of this part of the city for heavy manufacturing and commercial port activities. Thus the challenge of practitioners and policymakers who work to build a sense of the waterfront as a shared asset in the city is connectivity – between the site and urban fabric, as well as between land and water. In other words, a successful waterfront project not only makes it easy for residents to move from work or home to the edge of the water, but also entices residents into, onto, or over the water.
Another interesting point of debate was what role a vital waterfront can play in a city’s overall economic development strategy, and when. In Copenhagen, for example, the public sector has made an up-front investment in residential opportunities along existing and future waterways throughout the city, reasoning that a high quality of living will draw residents with the greatest ability to drive a knowledge-based economy. In other cities, including most of the American cities represented, project leaders must attract private investment by selling a plan or vision that is often drafted with a high level of public engagement.
In addition to the substantive outcomes of the multiple large- and small-group discussions, the Forum served as an opportunity for delegates to forge strong professional and personal bonds. A large portion of the group volunteered to work collaboratively with GMF to create spaces for the group to convene virtually in the future. Because there was so much expertise to be shared among the delegates in such a brief time frame, many conversations had only just begun by the end of the Forum. Some small groups of delegates began to sketch out concrete joint projects for the coming year, including a project involving Leipzig, Birmingham, and Pittsburgh. In addition to the strong ties formed among the TCF delegates, GMF looks forward to integrating this group closely with the larger Transatlantic Cities Network and with other GMF networks in the cities represented.