Development of Hamilton's waterfront is much in the news these days as developers vie for the opportunity to undertake the most important makeover in Bermuda's history and future. Many column inches are devoted to the topic and there is even a website (Hamilton Waterfront).
Conspicuous by its absence is a concerted, planned and properly executed effort to collaborate with us - the public - to help ensure the waterfront we get is one we actually want and, more importantly, will use. A beautifully designed waterfront that does not serve as a magnet for social gathering and provide an engine for economic activity is an opportunity sadly lost.
People ask me about this a lot and my response is always the same: Hamilton's waterfront is Placemaking 101. First you need to ensure the four key attributes of a great place: it must be accessible and linked to other important places; it needs to be comfortable and have a good image; people need to be drawn to the activities that take place there; and, it must be a sociable place where people will gather and visit again and again and again. In the context of Bermuda, I would add, also, it needs, particularly, to satisfy residents' needs/desires/preferences because we are here year round not just for four days and three nights.
How can we collectively arrive at a plan for this great place? I would suggest a community driven approach. We identify the stakeholders (a truly diversified group if we are serious about it) and listen to them as we evaluate the space and create a vision for it. We invest in a design that supports the target uses and start slow with short-term experiments. We incorporate long-term ventures in due course, all the while remembering to be flexible and to engage in continual reevaluation and improvement.
And the benefits? A great place will build and support the local economy. It will nurture and define community identity whilst fostering frequent and meaningful interactions. It will promote a sense of comfort and belonging and be welcoming to a diverse population. It will generate greater accessibility by all.
So, where are we now? We are at the beginning of a design-led process when, in my opinion, we should probably be at the beginning of a place-led process. Creating a "great place" is not easy - and brave development partners are needed - but engaging the community in its planning is a wonderful and useful start.