What is the underlying policy structure and principles that forge the postmodern urban waterfront - Assignment Example

This thesis seeks to analyse the dynamics behind post-industrial waterfront revitalisation with a view to alternative approaches. Building upon the body of theoretical discourse that has emerged since the 1980’s to explore the emergent pattern of waterfront development globally, and using comparative case studies the thesis will explore the characteristics of the postmodern1 waterfront development and examine the outcomes in terms of public welfare, economics and private gain.

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The postmodern, urban, waterfront development taking the form of market rate, luxury residential and commercial space, supported by the consumer spectacle that is the postmodern mall and augmented by a cultural showpiece such as a museum2, in diverse parts of the world are virtually indistinguishable. Cities have focussed on the economic redeveloping the urban waterfronts, rendered obsolete by global economic restructuring (Sassen 1995), shifts in national economic policies and by technological changes in the shipping industry (Pinder, Hoyle, Husain 1998).

The industrial waterfront has been reduced to a postmodern corporate product (Keating, 1993) that maintains little or no connection to its particular urban context, spatially, socially, and economically spurred on by cities that pursue the gentrification of inner cities and industrial districts through the provisions of public subsidies to encourage the interest of private investors in the reconditioning of industrial areas.

Public planners have evolved in this environment into mediators between “private investors and public sponsors” (Fainstein, 1994) and commodity managers and the public are omitted from planning process. The physical outcome is the post-modernist image based environment where the specificity of history and place are discarded and are replaced by the kind of homogenized commodification with which we are all familiar.

Some urban theorists in the United States and Europe contend that there are great adverse social consequences to this pattern of urban (and waterfront) development, increasing socio-economic inequality, spatial inequality displacement and fragmentation/ marginalization of communities; polarisation of the urban labour markets in conjunction with an increase in the economically inactive (the unemployed and the prematurely retired) (Fainstein 1994; Hamnett 1996; Sassen 1991,1994); disinvestments, income inequality and a erosion of social safety net.

Socio-political theorists see the conversion and creation of these new types of spaces as the direct outcome of changes in the mode of production and of resultant economic restructuring (Harvey, 1990). It is also argued that the reproduction of post-modernist space both from and on the “ashes” of industrial space is the clarion call of a growing consumer class whose values systems and cultural mores -mass and electronic media and the homogenizing tendencies of mass culture demand this particular reconditioning of the urban landscape, that it these socio-cultural changes, which contribute to this phenomena (Zukin, 1995).

The short-term planning strategies adopted resulted in few benefits for the public at large and for public prosperity though utilising public revenue (Fainstein 1994; Sassen 1994), but are there alternatives or is this all inevitable, and an entrepreneurial approach simply the next phase of social and economic development (Imrie and Raco, 1999). The questions the thesis seeks to answer are: What is the underlying policy structure and principles that forge the postmodern urban waterfront? * What strategies can be initiated to begin to break this global pattern/model of revitalisation? In this thesis, I will use Battery Park City and the World Financial Center3 in New York City, as the starting point, from which to explore the emergence of a distinct approach to urban redevelopment including waterfront revitalisation.

Typical of this approach of economic development through property development is the diminished role of government in the provision of public services where by local and or state governance turn to private sector investments and rely on market forces for redevelopment, the private sector is able to secure exceptional decision making powers through the exclusion of local planning authority and the consequent exemption from planning regulations.

Government policy, at the local level tends to focus more on development that has the potential to produce economic return than on development that improves the socio economic circumstances of its citizens (Fainstein, 1994), but to solve problems of financing and of competing interests in the different levels of government, independent project agencies are created to initiate development plans and to provoke the interest private investors in commercial property development on the derelict sites.

Urban Development Corporations (UDCs), who have no responsibility to the public, no public accountability and to whom the special decision-making powers are transferred, including exemptions from statutory regulations and the ability to alter or waive planning tools, replace urban planners in the role of planning and implementing projects (Gordon 1997).

Other characteristics of this approach include: bypassing of, or disregard for local democratic participation; a shift in priorities from public expenditure and the leveraging of the public revenues against private investment. I believe it is from this project that these recurrent characteristics in waterfront revitalisation strategies stem. I will examine the process of revitalisation of the old Hudson Piers, the site that was developed into Battery Park City, and the character of this project.

The decline of the working waterfront and the emergence of Battery Park City is a convergence of many simultaneous phenomena: technological change; global-economic transformations stemming from changes in the nature of capital; decentralisation; regional, national and international competition among urban centres and the strengthened role of private capital in local planning.

This important new force in urban development, in turn, has influenced the nature of the relationships brokered between public and private actors with commercial interests overwhelming strategies and becoming the dominant force behind the strategies that have shaped decision-making on the waterfront. These factors define the economic, spatial, social socio-cultural (post modernism) practices witnessed.

I will look at this particular transformation of the traditional waterfront, the earliest of its kind in the United States, and show that the revitalisation of what is now the Battery Park City and the World Financial Center waterfront site emerged under an unique developmental structure not a municipally guided endeavour, based on highest and best use or market forces and also as a tool for city image building4. At the head of waterfront revitalisation is technological change and urban restructuring. The model of forces and trends on the waterfront proposed by D.

Pinder, B. Hoyle, S. Hussain, expresses well the technological changes and the immediate consequences (redundancy and decline) that prompted the type of urban development in Battery Park City as well as in the other case study sites, but it fails to locate these changes in the larger global socio-cultural context or in the national political context. I will then extract the recurring characteristics of this mode of development from the following three case studies, selected for their divergent cultural contexts and different political structures.

Characteristics include: local or nation economic crisis the creation of public/private entities, the Economic Development Corporations, and the manner in which the role of public planning was co-opted or weakened by them; the presence of other private entities and the ways in which private money influenced development decisions and manifested itself in the development product; the target market: can anyone live at the waterfront; and the role of art and retail.

The first case study is Victoria and Albert Dock in Liverpool, a smaller port city revitalisation project that contributed greatly to the city’s recent selection as European City of Culture, 2008.

Despite its different political and planning organisation it produced much the same product as in the United States; the Victoria and Alfred Docks in Cape Town, in post apartheid South Africa bears all the trademarks of the Battery Park City approach to urban development and the Finnish model as applied on the Ruoholahti waterfront in the west Harbour of Helsinki, with the identical pre-conditions and physical outcome, but an approach which challenges the globally accepted belief that the emergence of a global economy and its accent on financial gain cannot be married well with social equity locally.

The target consumer of the typical waterfront revitalisation project tends to be the moneyed classes with significant disposable income as evidenced by the cost of residence in redeveloped waterfront apartments or house and that a majority of waterfront accommodation is offered for sale, not as rental properties and at a premium, and that facilities like marinas are integrated into the development plan.

A portrait of waterfront residents will be uncovered through an investigation of the income level and will show the reasons behind the establishment of this type of urban development strategy and will help to clearly identify the winners and the losers. The thesis should not be read solely as a critique of postmodern waterfront revitalisation strategies though much of the space created in revitalised waterfront space tends to be consumer space i. e. shops and restaurants very little if any space is devoted to workshops or light industry.

There is a wholesale cultural shift that obscures and fails to address the realities of urban life: affordable housing, unemployment, and cyclical poverty. Abstractly, the changes are a great improvement on dereliction both physically and in terms of the benefits they bring to society creating safe, clean and active environments. The thesis is not an exercise in nostalgia for industrialisation, purporting a romantic myth of the traditional working waterfront, rather it attempts to clarify the reasons for replacement of manufacture and industry from many of these sites, the particular transformation and the reasons for emulation.

The use of secondary data will help to understand the socio-economic ramifications of revitalisation. Revitalisation infuses new energy, into dying or often already dead economies, it creates new uses for redundant architecture and infrastructure, it reconnects people to the pleasures of access to the water, it provides new employment and housing through a synthesis of public funds and private investments and expertise, however closer examination of revitalisation trends uncover the expansion of private involvement into the public domain through economic and spatial strategies and, the diminishing of (local) public authority.

Following from this, is a bias in how the physical and economic benefits of revitalisation are distributed or if they are in fact disseminated to the public. The benefits specified for the public, from waterfront revitalisation projects are almost always demonstrated in terms of public space: parks, waterfront esplanades, gardens and playing fields on site, and /or the provision of affordable housing financed by the profits of the revitalisation projects, off site.

In the urban environment public open space is more than just a luxury, literally creating natural and healthful oases in an overwhelming man made environments, but the motive behind public beautification is not always so pure. Green spaces add significant value to the commercial development and to the site. The use of public green space to ameliorate a derelict site serves as to encourage interest in otherwise reluctant investors. (Fainstein, 1994; Gastil, 2002).

Affordable housing in many cities is one critical public need that developers, given the opportunity to exploit the potential of redundant waterfront spaces, consistently do not meet. Private developers claim of the return of the public investment in private development, in the form of off site affordable housing fails, as during this period there was a sustained demand but not an increase in the production for affordable housing in New York City.

Overall what is lacking in the model of revitalisation is the integration of economics and social needs (policy). The achievements/successes of this model of revitalisation must be qualified in terms other than private profits. A development project that seems to do both is the Ruoholahti waterfront project, one of three waterfront revitalisation projects the West Harbour of Helsinki Finland 5. According to Paula Pennanen, the main regeneration strategies and the project targets in Helsinki are different from most western post-industrial cities…. socially mixed affordable housing production in high quality environments’. In Helsinki, a strong social tradition, strong planning policy and long-term development policy addresses housing affordability, within the context of global capital and the dominant policy actor tends to be the local government.

I will demonstrate the national and international mechanisms that are the reasons behind the reiteration that occurs in waterfront revitalisation strategy. Through globalisation,6 development firms such as Olympia and York, the creators of Battery Park City and the World Financial Center are able to reach across the Atlantic over long standing government regulation and municipal planning authorities to create the Canary Wharf development, London, bringing ‘the same methods they had so successfully used in [Battery Park City] New York. (Hall 1998), corporations like the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront are informed by development strategies applied in the United States (Kilian and Dodson 1995), to be haphazardly replicated here and there without planning. A revitalisation project that is deemed successful and worthy of emulation by city leaders and/or developers is judged by a limited and immediate set of criteria including aesthetic appeal, profitability (rarely by long-term socio-economic outcome) and how the development aids in constructing new or embellishing the existing identity of the city.

This value of the revitalised waterfront scheme, like Battery Park City, like Canary Wharf, and like Hong Kong is realised for an external market7: competition to attract the regional and the global tourist; the global corporation and its auxiliary financial and business services; to entice the upper income earner who might otherwise choose to consume in the ‘safety’ of suburbia or in another almost indistinguishable urban centre. .

In this manner these projects are successful, yet the transformation of the waterfront into solely a site of exclusivity and for consumerism is proving not to hold, even in a postmodern climate. Using the knowledge gathered, I will conclude by suggesting more comprehensive, contextual approaches to waterfront revitalisation. This may mean strategies that respond to and act along with local initiatives, have a responsibility to public welfare, are governed by public mandate.

By examining the successes and failures of the case studies, by understanding the evolution of this particular urban form and the propensity for it to be so frequently emulated one can begin to anticipate the future changes to be implemented at a presently redundant site and to affect alternative and contextual strategies in waterfront development, such as in places like New York where such sites still lie under-utilised.

A successful revitalisation of a waterfront site does not necessarily equal imposing the model of the post-modern waterfront on the site, but exploring the particular local circumstances and adhering to the social and economic need of the adjacent public.