Richmond leaders cite examples of riverfronts in other cities

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by Nicole Anderson Ellis

Richmond is not the first city to struggle with balancing economic development and ecological concerns along its

riverfront.  So as residents debate the river’s role in Richmond’s master plan, some are scrutinizing examples from

other cities.

San Antonio
The Riverwalk along the San Antonio River is a roaring economic success.  It is the Lone Star State’s second most

popular destination (the Alamo is No. 1). The Riverwalk gets a lot of credit for wooing roughly 26 million visitors

a year to San Antonio, generating billions of dollars for its hospitality industry. 
But since the early 1920s the San Antonio River’s tendency to flood has made it a project for engineers.  The

result is a river running down a concrete channel that is drained and scoured annually. It also hosts little native

wildlife.  Although a hit for San Antonio, the Riverwalk model is a poor fit for rapids-loving Richmond, says Bill

Pantele, the city council president. “It’s too commercial.” 

Pittsburgh once was synonymous with steel.  Then mills shut down.  By the 1990s acres of former steel sites were

scattered along Pittsburgh’s waterfront. Then-Mayor Tom Murphy realized that the city’s best prospects for

revitalization were tied to the three rivers that converge downtown: the Allegheny, the Monongahela and the Ohio. 
“That city has transformed its rivers,” says Bill Street, executive director of the James River Association. 

“There was constant push back, but [Murphy] was adamant that the best land in the city — the river frontage — be

open to public access.” 
Murphy in fact blocked plans by the city’s beloved Pittsburgh Steelers for a new practice field when he saw that it

impeded public access to a section of river.  The redesigned field demonstrates Pittsburgh’s new priorities: It’s

only 80 yards long.
Seoul, South Korea
Greg Wingfield knows what he doesn’t want for Richmond. “I don’t want it to look like Seoul, with canyons lining

the river,” says the president of the Greater Richmond Partnership.
But maybe Seoul wants its Han River to look more like the James? 
Seoul was virtually leveled during the Korean War. After the war, the success of the city’s ambitious push into the

global marketplace became known as the “Miracle on the Han.” Today, Seoul is a prosperous, international city with

more than 10 million people.
As the city grew, it stretched along the banks of the Han whose waters became fouled with industrial and

residential waste.  Its lush banks were encased in concrete.  The river’s vistas were hidden behind apartment

towers and crowded shops. 
In 2006, however, Seoul’s leaders announced a Han River Renaissance. It involves a $267 million plan re-creating

natural spaces and providing access to the river. City officials hope the plan will lead to a second miracle on the


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