My Turn: Insist on waterfront parks, gardens for development

Posted: Sunday, June 01, 2003

Let's save our Juneau waterfront for parks and gardens!

CBJ is planning long-range waterfront development. We'll be stuck with that for 20 years. But semi-independent and generally pro-cruise ship Docks & Harbors set tourism objectives, and declared "diversity of uses," for the waterfront before the public process began. That's what their consultant said. That means people have no real input, the consultant's plan is doomed and all planning money is wasted. Shame on Docks & Harbors.

"Diversity of uses" means a little of this and a little of that. That's "platypus development." Ugly. Tour bus parking in what used to be Marine Park? Sick or silly.

Why let cruise companies and associated bus companies continue to control tourists and us? Don't downtown businesses know tourists can't spend downtown when tourists are on buses? What kind of park is it, with buses in it? Bad for residents, bad for business, bad even for mobs of tourists, who are pre-sold tours and whose time is controlled, who pile off ships to mill around buses as drivers hold up signs saying where to go. A quality experience? Not for tourists; not for residents.

Many cities have waterfront parks, for example: Charleston, Portland, New York City, Louisville and Chicago.

Chicago's Merchant Club back in 1909 decided a city was a place to live, not just a place to earn money. "Urbs in hortis," or "city in a garden" is Chicago's motto. The Merchant's Club hired a world-class architect, Daniel Burnham. Burnham's plan reclaimed land from Lake Michigan; he designed parks and gardens, statues, museums (including aquarium, planetarium, totem poles, zoos, etc.), spectacular color-lighted water fountains, bandshells, small-boat harbors and walkways or bike paths that run 15-20 miles along the water.

Chicago is a city of commerce and industry. Back then, all other ports industrialized their waterfronts. But in Chicago, the first American city to have a citywide plan, Burnham showed that a city was also to live in; cities could save waterfronts for recreation and education - in 1909, they probably called this "moral uplift," for residents and visitors. Even now Chicago maintains the Burnham plan.

This Idea of waterfront devoted to recreation and education is old, though new for Juneau. I started a simple petition to get the idea started for Juneau.

The petition reads: "We are residents of the Juneau Borough who want the waterfront (that area to the water side of roads nearest and parallel to the shore) to be devoted to waterfront parks and gardens to the maximum extent possible - as for example parks planner Daniel Burnham did for Chicago."

Short, simple, direct, clear. "Devoted" and "maximum extent possible" and referring directly to Burnham and to Chicago.

Just put commerce and industry on the land side of the road system, and leave the water side for parks, museums, statues, totem poles and other ethnic cultural items, monuments, gardens, bandshells, walkways and bike trails, etc., as in Chicago, Portland, Charleston, etc.

No more waterfront land for monster cruise ships, docks, gift shops, parking, restaurants or hotels. No more cruise ship docks, period. Go back to 1997 numbers, and put other non-park uses on the land side. When possible, buy up private waterfront property and turn that into parks, or fill in the waterside and make park land there.

Juneau, too, can be a place to live and enjoy, not just a place to take money from tourists in summer and to leave in winter. Juneau can be another "City in a Garden," saving for everyone waterfront views, with recreation and moral uplift for all.

Commerce and industry? Of course, but only on the land side. Cruise-ship tourism? Of course, but only up to 1997 limits: Half a million passengers annually, 5,000 maximum per day, six days a week, no more than 2,000 passengers per ship. Put parks - not docks - along the water.

Like this Idea? More than 140 Juneauites already signed the petition. Write the Assembly at 155 S. Seward, Juneau, Alaska 99801, or call the mayor or manager at 586-5240. Say you want the waterfront only for parks and gardens, as in Burnham's Chicago plan. Tell Planning & Zoning, Docks & Harbors, Community Development and Parks & Rec. Insist on it.

Joe Sonneman has been an Alaskan since 1971 and is a photographer and a lawyer who was born and raised in Chicago.



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