NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

February 3, 2014

Waterfront solution: Use common sense

Viewpoint
Thomas Freund

---- — Waterfront, waterfront, what to do? The solution is simple. Use some common sense. Learn from the successes of other cities with waterfronts. Look at Chicago, my home until we moved to this area almost eight years ago. While we live in Newbury, we are in Newburyport almost daily. We shop, eat, attend various activities, and belong to local organizations. Newburyport became a magnet for us. Its open, accessible waterfront and amenities attract and distinguish it from other cities and towns.

Ask people what is its focal point and likely you’ll often hear its beautiful open waterfront and park. Ask people the same question about Chicago and you’ll likely hear the same answer. Many people will also add its shopping and fine dining. It didn’t happen by accident. It was carefully planned by noted architect and urban planner Daniel Burnham, who also designed major developments in other cities. Burnham envisioned opening up the waterfront, unencumbered by commercial or residential structures, to make it accessible to residents and visitors. He did not occupy valuable waterfront land with residential housing or parking. Realizing its value, ownership and control was kept by the city.

Burnham buffered the lakefront with an expansive park system, further attracting more people and commerce. Separated from residential and commercial areas by Lake Shore Drive and Michigan Avenue, commerce thrived. Michigan Avenue and its nearby neighborhoods became world-renowned for shopping and dining.

As the city grew it became apparent there was need for parking to meet both present and future needs. Burnham did not use valuable waterfront frontage for parking cars. Instead, away from the waterfront, both city and private garages were created, assuring residents and visitors of being able to park their cars. This further attracted people to visit, thus enhancing more commerce.

There are parallels with Newburyport, and we can learn from Daniel Burnham and the noted planners who followed him as the city developed. If we want Newburyport to be a viable place to live, visit, shop, eat and thrive, let’s heed the successes of others and plan for it. An accessible waterfront park is a magnet, drawing people and subsequently commerce to a city. It is difficult to understand how any good urban planner would consider a city giving up ownership and control of its prized possession, their waterfront.

An open waterfront with adjacent park and facilities, unencumbered by commercial or residential structures plus the ancillary equipment necessary to maintain them, will distinguish Newburyport from other cities with many of the same amenities, yet which lack the rarity of an open waterfront. Does Newburyport want to continue building on its little remaining parkland to the point it winds up looking like any other city?

So, what is the solution? Leave the park and adjacent dirt lots as they are for the time being. Find a way to construct a parking garage away from the waterfront, yet convenient to the downtown area. Waterfront property is too valuable to squander on parking cars. Then, once a garage has been built, expand and improve the park to encompass the now existing dirt parking lots.

We only have to witness the lack of parking, not only for the many various activities that take place, but almost on a daily basis. While looking at present parking needs, we must also look ahead to the future. We don’t want people to stay away from Newburyport because of a shortage or fear of a shortage of parking.

Creative financial consultants and developers may be needed to secure financing. However, leaders with vision and strength who can fulfill this and bring this to fruition will have achieved a great accomplishment.

Let’s follow the successes of other cities across our nation that have recognized and capitalized on their gem, their open waterfront. Again, just use some common sense and follow those who have demonstrated success.

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Thomas Freund is a retired investment executive formerly from Chicago, now living in Byfield.