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The last several decades have seen many cities around the world regenerate their post-industrial urban waterfront. The sites that where once scattered with large ships, countless factories and heavy pollution are now places of encounter, activity and architectural innovation. In this blog post, I am going to look at how the form of urban waterfronts has changed over time into what it is today.

Initially, a city’s very existence was due to waterways, and today they are practically their inseparable parts (Hradilova, 2012, p. 261). Rivers, canals, streams, oceans and other watercourses determined the success of a city based on how well the water system was managed. If a city were to succeed, it must boast a successful water system for things such as distributing goods, services and information, as well as being a key transportation method (Hradilova, 2012; Townshend, 2017). However, problems did arise because of the amount of activity taking place at the waterfront, and as Antunes (2010) describes, “the continuous arrival of foreign ships led to hectic periods around the docks.” This resulted in surveillance being unable to cope with the demand of the ships and workers, meaning that petty criminals prospered and disease spread. But overall, there was a mutual respect between humans and the water – one which allowed the waterfront to possess a particular social character where people could enjoy.

Image result for river thames 16th century

Figure 1 – Old London Bridge and the River Thames, 16th Century
Source – (Popperfoto 2004)

Fast forward to the 19th century, the waterways across the world and their waterfronts served a much different purpose. The industrial revolution saw the development of huge ports, commercial industry and large warehouses along major water networks (Pekin, 2008, cited in Timur, 2013, p. 169). This ultimately saw the decline of the waterfront that was once thriving with people and activities (2007, cited in Timur, 2013, p. 169). Unfortunately, the de-industrialisation of cities saw this decline plummet even further, with the factories, ports and warehouses losing their importance, the waterfront became almost completely obsolete. It is only in the past several decades that cities have implemented strategies to transform their urban waterfronts, and there is now theme across the UK of urban waterfront regeneration.

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Figure 2 – The neglected waterfront and rivers during the industrial revolution
(Source – TAAPWorld)

Cities such as Liverpool, Newcastle, Glasgow and London are perfect examples of how a de-industrialised waterfront can become something magnificent. Each of them have suffered from the after-effects of the industrial revolution, but have managed to develop their waterfront into a place which attracts many tourists, businesses, recreational activity and residents. Not only this, but, particularly Newcastle and Liverpool, these cities have saw the positive impact of transforming their waterfront spill out into the rest of the city. Breen and Rigby (cited in Miles, 2005, p. 922) discusses how waterfront regeneration, when successful, is “capable of  not only of enriching a city’s economy but of improving its collective self-image.”

Image result for newcastle quayside then and nowFigure 3 – Newcastle Quayside then and now
(Source – ilovenewcastleuk)

The negative impact that de-industrialisation had on the urban waterfront is clear to all, but it has been proven across the UK, and in fact world, that with a little imagination, the waterfront can once again become a place full of life.


Antunes. C, 2010. “Early Modern Ports, 1500-1750”, European History Online (EGO), Institute of European History (IEG), Mainz. Available at: [Accessed 16/03/2017].

Hradilova. I, 2012. “Influence of Urban Waterfront Appearance on Public Space Functions”, Acta Universitatis Agriculturae et Silviculturae Mendelianae Brunensis, Vol. 60 (8), pp. 261 – 268.

Miles. S, 2005. “’Our Tyne’: Iconic Regeneration and the Revitalisation of Identity in
NewcastleGateshead”, Urban Studies, Vol. 42 (5/6), pp. 913 – 926.

Timur. U.P, 2013. “Urban Waterfront Regenerations”, Advances in Landscape Architecture, Dr. Murat Ozyavuz (Ed.), InTech, DOI: 10.5772/55759. Available at: [Accessed 16/03/2017].

Townshend. T.G, (forthcoming) 2017. “Blue infrastructure for Human Flourishing”, in Babalis, D. (ed) Approaching the Integrative City, Altalinea, Florence.

Image Sources

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3 responses to “The importance of the urban waterfront”

  1. Here in this post, Ryan highlighted the key issue which triggered the regeneration process of the waterfronts after post-industrial revolution around the world. Waterways were the most important routes for transportation of goods during industrial revolution for the waterfront cities. Because of that, all the industrial buildings used to set up on the banks of the waterways. But, As Ryan says it became socially unattractive spaces alongside waterways with abandon industrial buildings, vandalism, hotspots for criminal with the lack of a social surveillance. So, it needed to be changed into more socially enjoyable and safe place.

    I grew up in a city which also faced the same situation. But, after regeneration of the river front, it became one of the most lively and commercially attraction to the city. Development of iconic bridges, public buildings and landscape features as a part of regeneration becomes the identity of that city. These spaces have the most potential to attract inverters and tourist to take its economic advantage to its fullest. It can also be used to depict the culture of the city to the visitors.

    So, Regeneration of the waterfronts is nowadays one of the most important parts in urban development of any waterfront city which help uplifting city’s economic, heritage and cultural value.

  2. All of the civilisation happen around water feature. Water is an inseparable feature that bond to our life. Industrial revolution had left us abandoned factories and heavy pollution on the waterfront. Regeneration of urban waterfront is always hot topic in the past several decades.

    In ryan’s blog, he discussed that how the urban waterfront transform until what it is today. I totally agree about what he is describing, a successful city must have a successful water system in order to effectively distribute goods, services and information. These had led most of the industrial factories and warehouse were build on the urban waterfront in order to maximise the effect. This had caused a lot of left over buildings after the industrial revolution.

    I personally think that, this is not a downfall, but instead this is an opportunity to create a space that is full of historical atmosphere while at the same time serve an purpose for the current world. The mill in Newcastle upon Tyne is a successful regeneration project. The old flour mill are now a centre for contemporary art, while keeping it original façade. This had preserve the historical past of the building while giving it a whole new life.

  3. Ryan discussed some interesting ideas and elements of Urban Waterfront Regeneration from past to present day. This raises an interesting topic for discussion which relates to the effect that water has on humans and why we are attracted to it. Many practitioners have discussed the health and mental benefits of water, (Timur, 2013) as it visual stimulants of water affect us on several sensory levels.

    As Timur suggests that people are drawn to the physical attraction of water and its, “relaxing motion and serenity factors.”, he also suggests that different types of water convey different feelings. As moving evokes vibrancy and excitement, stagnant water creates a mirroring effect allowing tranquil reflection. (Timur, 2013. cited in Önen, 2007).

    What attracts us to water?

    In the recent past, industrial activity and employment drew people to the waterfront many industrial cities were shaped by this. This has been a common issue in many cities which have needed to adapt to the 21st century and have an attraction that would be able to compete with other cities as well as London.

    A common trend that arises is an emphasis on leisure and commercial business on and around waterfronts, as they provide tranquil and positive environments for shoppers to enjoy. Whether it’s a city of culture like Liverpool which is imaged towards retail, leisure and cultural type of waterfront. Other cities have shown more interest in media and digital based industries such as media city Salford and Belfast.


    M. Önen, (2007.) Examination Rivers’ Recreational Potential As An Urban Coastal Space: Case Study, Eskisehir Porsuk Creek and Istanbul Kurbagalidere. Master Thesis, Istanbul Technical University, Institute of Science And Technology, 204 p., Istanbul.

    Timur. U.P, (2013.) Urban Waterfront Regenerations, Advances in Landscape Architecture, Dr Murat Ozyavuz (Ed.), InTech, DOI: 10.5772/55759. Available at: [Accessed 20/05/2017].

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