Saskatoon gets riverfront right

By Paul Hanley, Special to The StarPhoenix

The best urban planning decision ever made in Saskatoon would have to be maintaining the riverbanks as public space. The second-best decision was to create the Meewasin Valley Authority in 1979 to further protect and enhance the river valley.

Time will tell, but we may look back on the establishment of River Landing as our third-best decision. River Landing has already beautified the south downtown edge of the river -- remember it was just a snow dump and abandoned power plant until a few years ago. If the development comes together as planned, it will become the community's centre and gathering place.

The Project for Public Places (www.pps.org) has outlined 13 rules of thumb for creating vibrant waterfront developments. It looks like River Landing is pretty much on the money on most fronts; fortunately, there is still time to pay attention to those areas not already addressed.

1. Make public goals the primary objective. As long as plans adhere to the notion that the waterfront is a public asset, the result will be an engaged community with a sense of ownership and pride.

2. Create a shared community vision for the waterfront. Ensure a citizen-led initiative that outlines a set of goals that set the stage for people to think boldly and achieve new possibilities for their waterfront.

3. Create multiple destinations: The Power of 10. PPS has found that a goal of creating 10 great destinations along the entire waterfront is highly effective. Ideally, each destination should provide 10 things to do, which creates diverse, layered activity.

4. Connect the destinations. Each of the 10 destinations should be incorporated into a vision for the waterfront as a whole. The key is to achieve continuity, especially when it comes to the pedestrian experience.

5. Optimize public access. Waterfronts with continuous public access are the most desirable. Access also means that people can actually interact with the water in many ways -- from swimming to dining and picnicking to boarding boats. If it is not possible to actually touch the water, people should have access to fountains or a spray play area.

6. Ensure that new development fits within the community's vision. Waterfronts are too valuable to allow developers to dictate the terms of growth and change. This is not to say that private development should be unwelcome -- on the contrary. But whatever is built must contribute to the goals set by the community, not detract from them.

7. Encourage 24-hour activity by limiting residential development. Great waterfronts are not dominated by residential development. A high concentration of residential development limits the diversity of waterfront use and creates constituencies invested in preventing 24-hour activity from flourishing.

8. Use parks to connect destinations, not as destinations themselves. Passive open space puts a damper on the inherent vibrancy of waterfronts. The world's best waterfronts use parks to link major destinations together.

9. Design and program buildings to engage the public space. Any building on the waterfront should add to the activity of the public spaces around it. When successful, the result is an ideal combination of commercial and public uses. Towers are noticeably out of place along waterfronts. They may create a wall that physically and psychologically cuts off the waterfront.

10. Support multiple modes of transportation and limit vehicular access. Waterfronts are dramatically enhanced when they can be accessed by means other than private vehicles.

11. Integrate seasonal activities into each destination. Rain or cold is no reason for a waterfront to sit empty. Waterfront programming should take rainy day and winter activities into account. Amenities should provide protection from inclement weather.

12. Make stand-alone, iconic buildings serve multiple functions. An iconic structure can be a boon to the waterfront, so long as it acts as a multi-use destination.

13. Manage, manage, manage. Waterfronts could adopt the model of the business improvement districts. A "WID" could forge partnerships between waterfront businesses and organizations and those in the surrounding district, so that waterfront programming reflects the community and gives the place a unique character.

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Tyler Frederick

Tyler Frederick

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