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New buildings in Hamburg's HafenCity.

In modern urban planning, the waterfront or harbor district refers to the districts located on the banks of larger bodies of water (rivers, canals, lakes, sea), which today are large, but also enormously expensive and therefore long-term urban revitalization projects due to their often obsolete port facilities , docks and industrial buildings stimulate.


Until well into the 19th century, ships were unloaded along fortified quays in the city center . Town houses therefore often contained storage floors. Cityscapes of the Bernardo Bellotto type still clearly document the importance of port operations in the city center. As a result of the economic development, especially of the railways , economic life was increasingly pushed to the outskirts in the 19th century. There it was easier to build rail connections and to operate them safely. The larger ships with deeper drafts and higher superstructures also gave rise to relocating the ports further “out” (closer to the sea), where the docks could be built deeper and no old, low bridges were in the way. In addition, there was more space for storage buildings, and loading and unloading of ships could take place behind walls or fences without being stolen. This created large port areas that were inaccessible to ordinary people, and port operations were isolated from normal city life. In individual cases this led to the city being almost completely turned away from the sea. B. in Barcelona .

However, the further economic and social progress from the 1960s onwards established another trend. The decline of international passenger shipping or its replacement by air traffic, but above all the introduction of automated container terminals (further away from the city center) and the increasing size of the specialized ships made the quay facilities, docks and storage buildings, which are now old again, economically obsolete . Large industrial companies such as shipyards have also had problems since the 1970s and were / are being given up. Since the 1960s, starting in the United States in Boston , Baltimore and San Francisco, attempts have been made to revitalize the run-down and useless waterfront in terms of residential and tertiary (office and tourist) uses. These projects also mostly prove to be successful in the long term. Not least because of the potentially increased real estate value of properties with a view of the water, the development of waterfronts is one of the most attractive and promising aspects of urban planning today. Exemplary model importance also had the Riverwalk in here San Antonio , which even in the days of the Great Depression as a job creation project by the EPA had been revitalized.

Difficulties only arise where in the 1950s to 1970s city highways were built, especially at high altitudes, along underused waterfronts, such as in New York under the head of building department Robert Moses and in Boston. There were similar construction projects in Tokyo , but also partly in Europe (expressway on the banks of the Seine in Paris , partly realized, Danube Canal motorway in Vienna , also partly realized). Such traffic routes, which devalue the privileged building site by the water, usually have to be lowered or otherwise relocated at high costs so that the waterfront can be successfully developed as a recreational area and service center (see e.g. Rheinuferpromenade Düsseldorf , Rheinufertunnel) , Big Dig in Boston). In Genoa , a significant upgrade of the waterfront was achieved despite the continued existence of the often criticized elevated Sopraelevata Aldo Moro waterfront .


Waterfront Kobe
Toronto waterfront

Further developments of the waterfront that are in progress can be found in


  • Rinio Bruttomesso (Ed.): Waterfronts - A New Frontier for Cities on Water . Venice 1993
  • Robert Schediwy : City images - reflections on the change in architecture and urbanism . Vienna 2005, ISBN 3-8258-7755-8 (especially p. 373ff)

Web links

Commons : Waterfronts  - collection of images, videos and audio files