Bringing Wow to your Waterfront

Posted on August 17, 2015 by Lisa Donovan

Biking along the Lake Michigan shore in Grand Haven

People of all ages are attracted to waterfronts. From lakeside cafes to waterfront festivals to leisurely walks and bike rides along the shore, the activities and amenities that draw in residents and visitors are endless. In Michigan – with more than 3,000 miles of Great Lakes shoreline, more than 11,000 lakes, and over 51,000 miles of rivers – there are certainly plenty of places to create fabulous waterfronts.

After studying waterfronts around the world, the Project for Public Spaces recently developed a list of the 10 qualities that make a really great waterfront destination:

  1. Surrounding Buildings Enhance Public Space – Any building on the waterfront should boost activity in the public spaces around it.
  2. Limits are Placed on Residential Development – Great waterfronts are not dominated by residential development. Why? Because these are places full of people, day and night.
  3. waterfront-Brighton-England-300x200

    Brighton, England

    Activities go on Round-the-Clock and Throughout the Year – Waterfronts that thrive year-round will reap substantial community and economic benefits.

  4. Flexible Design Fosters Adaptability – Successful waterfronts must adapt to many changes that bring different users at different times.
  5. Creative Amenities Boost Everyone’s Enjoyment – The best waterfronts feature amenities that increase people’s comfort and enjoyment.
  6. Access Made Easy by Boat, Bike and Foot – Waterfronts flourish when they can be access by means other than private vehicles.
  7. Local Identity is Showcased – The greatest waterfront destinations are found in cities that truly orient themselves to the water.
  8. The Water itself Draws Attention – The water itself is the greatest asset of any waterfront, and should become the centerpiece for programming and activities.
  9. Iconic Buildings Serve a Variety of Functions – Iconic, attention-grabbing buildings that reflect a human scale and do not detract from the surrounding context can be a boon to the waterfront, so long as they serve a variety of functions.
  10. Good Management Maintains Community Vision – Management is essential to ensure that a successful waterfront stays that way.

More details and examples from around the country and the world are available in the full article.

Many Michigan cities are treasure troves of waterfront development ideas as well. For example, Detroit’s riverfront has been transformed into beautiful parks and plazas that set the stage for a myriad of entertaining activities. And in Grand Haven, sandy Lake Michigan beaches are complemented by scenic bike trails, unique shops, boat and trolley rides, and a one-of-a-kind Musical Fountain.


Cadillac PlacePlan

Through our PlacePlans projects, the League is working with a number of other communities to help them get the most out of their waterfronts. Allegan is moving forward with plans to redevelop its Kalamazoo Riverfront to make it a more inviting destination. In Cadillac, the city has begun implementing plans to redesign a lakeside block as a year-round destination and attractive connection to downtown businesses. In Boyne City and Niles, current PlacePlans projects are developing designs that will amp up the value of their waterfront assets.

Need more inspiration? At this year’s Convention, we’re offering even more ideas in our Sept. 16 workshop, Waves of Waterfront Economic Development Strategies. In this session, attendees will learn about waterfront projects in Traverse City and communities across the state.

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