Urban waterfronts represent hybrid locations of ecological, economic, and social zones of transition and dispersal, spatially reified between land and water. Yet, through advancements in technology and the emergence of globally linked economies, the structure and function of urban waterfronts as economic and industrial drivers is becoming increasingly complex. As cities seek to redevelop their waterfronts in response to these changes, recent research and scholarship has focused on understanding the ecological, social, and economic benefits derived from urban waterfronts. This research reveals that their benefits are unevenly distributed among local and regional populations as sites of accumulated inequity and inaccessibility that are generative for only a relatively small percentage of the people living in a metropolitan area. Set within this paradoxical nexus, this paper frames a call to scientists, planners, academics, and waterfront activists to expand urban waterfront research from an indicator and benefits model to incorporate three conceptual tools for better understanding key dimensions of waterfront reclamation within the context of green infrastructure research: urban hybridity, functional performance and hierarchies of access. We explore these key dimensions in relation to the waterfront redevelopment of Tacoma, Washington, USA. By acknowledging the hybridity of urban waterfronts, we illustrate that their relative performance and accessibility require ongoing empirical study and practical intervention. Our theoretical explorations plot some of the potential areas of investigation for examining the structural and functional transitions of urban waterfronts as critical locations for green infrastructure development for the 21st century.
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