Waterfront Edge Design Guidelines: How to Promote Resilience, Ecology, and Access at the Water’s Edge

The Waterfront Alliance
Posted on: 12/12/2020 - Updated on: 12/21/2020

Posted by

Kathryn Braddock



Habitat for fish and wildlife, a place to enjoy the outdoors, a transportation network, our first line of defense against coastal storms—these are just some of the benefits coastlines provide. When a concerted effort is made, some balance between these functions can be achieved, even in our densest urban waterfronts. 

From intricate ecosystems to overlapping jurisdictions and land use policies, waterfront design is complex, even for the most seasoned planners, practitioners, and communities, and is becoming even more so with the growing risk of coastal flooding due to sea level rise. In the United States alone: 

  • We have spent over $47 billion in claims through the National Flood Insurance Program since 1978, 40% of which has come in just the last 10 years 
  • We lose an average of nearly 80,000 acres of coastal wetlands per year 
  • Our coastal areas comprise more than 40% of the population, though many people are disconnected from their waterfronts 

We need mechanisms and guidance to lead us at every scale: national, regional, local, and property. For this reason—and with help from hundreds of experts in design, science, community development, engineering, and insurance—the Waterfront Alliance developed WEDG® (Waterfront Edge Design Guidelines) to address these challenges, influencing real-time decision-making to support better outcomes. By influencing real projects with sound guidance, educating professionals, and engaging and supporting community groups, it is our aim to not only influence those individual decisions, but to shift the field of practice for waterfront design toward balancing resilience, ecology, and access for all. 

WEDG employs an evidence-based system of credits and guidelines focused on resilience, ecology, and access as the three key pillars of excellent waterfront design: 

  • Resilience: Reduce risks or adapt to the sea level rise and storm flooding through setbacks, structural protection, and other integrative landscaping measures. 
  • Ecology: Protect existing aquatic habitats and use designs, materials, and shoreline configurations to improve the ecological function of the coastal zone, and strive to be consistent with regional ecological goals. 
  • Access: Be equitable and informed by the community, enhancing public access, supporting a diversity of uses, from maritime, recreation, and commerce where appropriate, thereby maximizing the diversity of the harbor and waterfront.