Municipal Waterfronts: Planning for Commercial and Industrial Uses

Historic PAS Report Series

PAS published its first Information Report in 1949. To celebrate this history, each month we're presenting a new report from the archives.

We hope you enjoy this fascinating snapshot of a planning issue of yesteryear.



Information Report No. 45 December 1952

Municipal Waterfronts: Planning for Commercial and Industrial Uses

Download original report (pdf)

The development of municipal waterfronts has been varied and complex. For the most part, this development has occurred in the unplanned past. Today, many cities have become aware of the problems generated by the condition of their waterfronts. Among the worst of the problems are: the unregulated mixture of land uses, which is uneconomic and unhealthy; the deterioration of commercial and industrial facilities along the waterfront; the blighting of waterfront residential areas; traffic problems; organized vice and crime; destruction of the scenic and recreational values of the waterfront; and, floods, erosion, pollution and other sources of waterfront damage.

Some earlier works on the city and city planning have discussed aspects of planning for the municipal waterfront. Only one of these, Local Planning Administration (first edition) gets very specific. Ladislas Segoe, the author, has discussed some of the important particular features of the waterfront, and also described the coordination of water and land transportation, that is, the relation of waterfront to the street system and to railroad facilities. His general statements are still valid today. For instance, he states that the importance of any harbor for waterfront commerce will be determined by such factors as its location with respect to natural traffic routes, the physical characteristics of the harbor itself, the size and character of the city, the natural resources of the hinterland and their stage of development, and the economic status of the population, including their ability to produce goods for export and to use and purchase imports.

The importance of the planning function in waterfront development is not the design of the port, which is a specialist's job. According to Segoe, the planner's job is to advise these specialists and concerned public authorities about the location and extent of waterfront facilities. Any site must satisfy functional requirements as well as broader requirements from the community planning viewpoint. This report will attempt to provide city planners with information on some of these functional requirements.

Many cities have recognized the problems arising from the condition and character of their waterfront developments, as shown by their reports, plans, capital budgets, and zoning ordinances. One striking problem that is not touched on in any of these reports is the extent and effect of waterfront crime This month, the New York State Crime Investigating Committee is carrying on an inquiry in the Port of New York. It has shown the high price paid by shipping and stevedoring companies in the form of direct and indirect payoffs and costly delays and pilferage. If the cost of crime gets much higher, it will offset the economic advantages which have made the Port of New York the largest in the nation, and will cause shippers to send their trade through other ports. Then the price, in loss of port traffic, paid by the city of New York will be extremely high.

Other aspects of waterfront planning are more important in most localities. A number of cities, especially San Francisco and Cincinnati, have stated their goals and objectives in waterfront development and redevelopment. For example, to deal with the deterioration of commercial and industrial facilities, one of the objects of planning is to expand and reorganize waterfront areas suitable for industry, transport, and storage, and to modernize port facilities. Concerning the deterioration of business and residential structures, one city sees the redevelopment of the waterfront as a method of eliminating a blighted area and its depreciating effect on surrounding territory.

On the problem of city traffic, as related to the waterfront, an often stated goal is the improvement of highways, transit lines, rail facilities and waterways serving the shoreline industrial areas, and the construction of a continuous modern highway to serve every section and every feature of the waterfront. It is further thought that waterfront redevelopment, especially along rivers, can provide needed additional parking space, as well as add to the city's facilities for recreation. The increment to park and playground area along the waterfront may be gained when a rationalization of waterfront land use for industry provides services to industry and commerce, which are equal to, or superior to present ones and which occupy less of the waterfront area.

In the long run, the interest in waterfront development stems from concern with the city's future. Sometimes this is a part of the concern with the general future of the central city (in a metropolitan area). If the central city is not made more livable, it will continue its process of decay and decline, especially in relation to the suburban areas around it. One activity that may aid in preserving the central city is a plan to build a waterfront that has both beauty and utility. It should be remembered that most cities with important commercial or industrial waterfronts are trade centers. Their growth and development as trade centers will depend on the condition of that waterfront, and the facilities that serve it and the rest of the city. These considerations have led many cities to undertake detailed examinations and careful plans for the future of their waterfronts.

Against this view could be contrasted the activities of the Port of New York Authority, which, as a public corporation, carries on business much in the manner of a private enterprise. The Authority owns, operates, leases, and manages a variety of facilities, including not only piers, wharves, warehouses, and related port facilities, but also tunnels and bridges as well. At the same time, the city of New York also owns and operates piers and allied facilities. There has been a recent suggestion that city piers be taken over by the Port Authority, but this consolidation is far from an accomplished fact.

In connection with the development of riverfront lands, Riverfront suggests municipal participation may involve some or all of the following activities:

1. Acquisition of lands

2. Clearing, grading, drainage of lands

3. Dredging and tilling, protection of waterfront slopes

4. Road construction

5. Provision of utilities

6. Management of lands

7. Negotiation with possible users

8. Participation in lease or rental agreements

9. Subdivision and sale of lands

10. Construction of buildings

Which of these activities will actually be carried on by the municipality in any given area will depend on the need, and the decision as to who will do it. Frequently, partial responsibility for the decisions will rest with the planning commission.

Some of these studies and plans will be discussed, at least in part. Our principal job will be to examine the nature of some of the waterfront development problems, and to see how they have been handled by various cities. First, we shall examine the use of the powers of the city to regulate waterfront land use and waterfront activities.


There is no question that waterfront planning has, in the past, been considered as a function of city planning. For example, among the items included in the 1936 master plan of the city of New York were "bridges and tunnels and the approaches thereto" and "pier head and bulkhead lines, docks and wharves, waterways."

Of more specific interest to the planner is the answer to the question: what activities should the city, through its planning commission, port authority, or other agency, carry on in developing or redeveloping the waterfront? The answers so far provided in the plans of different cities vary with local conditions and problems, and the attitudes of local government.

The Planning Commission of Buffalo, in its recent publication Waterfront, states that the duties of the commission with respect to industrial and commercial uses of the waterfront should be limited to providing these uses with proper zoning, and that the development of commercial or industrial waterfront lands should be a private enterprise. For parks and recreation areas, the task of the planning commission is to determine the need for various facilities and to designate their location in a master plan.


One of the first questions that will have to be considered by planners is: how much waterfront land should be devoted to industrial and commercial uses? How much should be saved for other uses, such as recreational, residential, and public use? Past experience does not determine the future, but can be very revealing. Here are some recent estimates of waterfront land used for industry and commerce:

Nashville 77%
Cleveland 70%
Knoxville 65%
Memphis 60%
Buffalo 55%
Chattanooga 50% plus
Cincinnati 45%

The division of Cincinnati's waterfront into three major areas reveals some of the problems that arise in an unplanned and deteriorated waterfront:

West Section: 195 acres total. (Includes about half a dozen blighted residential blocks.)

57% railroads, manufacturing and wholesale uses (mostly coal yards)

4% residential and retail business use

26% vacant and unused, much of it part of the riverbank

13% other

East Section: 46 acres.

50% railroads and manufacturing

50% other

Central Section: 191 acres. (In great need of redevelopment.)

10% unused land

6% manufacturing

21% wholesaling (including the produce market)

14% residential, retail business and service, and parking lots

35% streets, alleys, and the public landing

14% unused land

The data suggest for the seven cities listed above that generally about 50 per cent of the waterfront of active commercial and industrial cities will be devoted to industry and commerce. The figures for Cincinnati hint at certain maladjustments in land use. For instance there is a high proportion of vacant land (although this may be partly explained by the difficulty of utilizing the riverbank itself) and there seems to be a high proportion of land devoted to streets and alleys. This high percentage does not necessarily mean that the streets constitute an adequate traffic facility.

It is not sufficient to have an idea of how much land should be devoted to commerce and industry, and to be able to tell whether the land is presently being used most efficiently for these purposes. It is also necessary to see that this land receives its most "economic" use. That is, criteria must be developed to determine which industries should have access to the waterfront, and how much of the waterfront land devoted to industry and commerce should be devoted to commercial transshipment facilities.


Industrial users of the waterfront are of two main types: industries which must receive raw materials or ship finished products by water; and those industries which require an unusually large quantity of water in their industrial processes. A different situation arises when valuable waterfront land has been preempted by industries that do not have essential need for a large water supply or for shipping facilities. Such industries occupy land, scarce enough in any city, that might prove attractive for the location of new water-using industries, or for the expansion of existing water-using industries.

The industries for which waterfront shipping is most vital are "bulk industries," since shipping by water is most economical and their raw materials and products do not require rapid shipment. Bulk industries are those which use bulk cargo — cargo that does not require packaging and is usually moved in large volume. The major items shipped in bulk are coal, ores, metals, grain, petroleum and petroleum products, iron and steel products, flour, lumber, fertilizer, and sand and gravel.

Many industries use large quantities of water for industrial processes. In some cases water may be obtained economically only by locating adjacent to a large body of water, such as a river or lake. In many areas, the water table has been so lowered that it is not only uneconomic, but it is impossible to get an adequate supply from ground water. Some industries use enormous amounts of water. For instance:

to make one ton of sulfate pulp requires 70,000 gallons of water;

to make one barrel of crude oil requires 770 gallons of water;

to make one barrel of aviation gas requires more than 1,000 gallons of water;

to make one ton of rolled steel requires 110,000 gallons of water;

to make one ton of viscose rayon requires 200,000 gallons of water.

(These figures, taken from the publication Water in Industry, are approximate. The quantity of water used in a single type of industry will vary according to the process use in the particular plant.).

A technological development that will influence the character of port development in the future is the change in size and capacity of the carriers used. While modern general cargo boats are somewhat larger than formerly, the change in size of ore boats and tankers has been much greater. Today, new ore carriers are in service and being built that will carry upwards of 40,000 tons of ore, and have an approximate overall length of 700 feet and a beam of 100 feet.

New oil tankers will carry up to 45,000 tons of oil. The dimensions of these new carriers can be compared with the dimensions of the new passenger lines, the S.S. America, 665 feet by 85 feet. Piers and other facilities built to handle smaller bulk carriers of shallower draft will have to be enlarged and modernized, or new facilities built.

The most important recent change in the national pattern of bulk goods shipment has taken place in the iron and steel industry. For the past twenty years or more, the iron ore deposits of the Lake Superior region have provided about three-quarters of the total United States demand for iron ore. In the economics of the industry, the effect of the location of the ore sources is important, since ore, coal, and the market receive about equal weight in calculating location. In the past, the largest part of the steel industry has located in the Great Lakes region to take advantage of lake shipment of ore from Duluth-Superior and nearby sources, and on the Ohio River for coal shipments from Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Kentucky, and in an area near the general industrial market of the northeastern quarter of the United States.

Recently, one of the factors determining plant location has changed. The exhaustion of high-grade ore from the Lake Superior region is imminent. Production will drop from about 70,000,000 tons a year in the Mesabi Range in 1950 to about 20,000,000 tons of high-grade ore in 1970. The yearly 50,000,000 ton difference has to be found in new sources of ore, one of which may be the processing of low grade taconite ores found in the Mesabi Range. The tonnage may even replace the tonnage of high-grade ore being shipped from the Mesabi Range at present.

With the awareness of this new situation, steel companies began to seek new sources of ore. One result was to switch their stand on the St. Lawrence Seaway project. Many of the Great Lakes steel producers hoped that the seaway would get built so they might use it to ship ore from new fields being developed in the northern Quebec–Labrador region. More important was the development of still other new ore fields. Besides those in the Quebec–Labrador region, the greatest future source of ore will be South America. In the future, Brazil may become a great producer of iron ore. For the present, at least, most of the new ore will come from enormous, easily worked deposits in Venezuela. Ore will be loaded, sometimes directly from the source, onto ocean carriers and brought to the United States. To utilize this ore, and take advantage of lowest possible transportation costs, the East has become the center of the largest new expansions of steel producing capacity. New facilities are being constructed or have been completed in the Baltimore area (Sparrows Point), the Philadelphia-Trenton-Delaware River area (U.S. Steel's Fairless Plant), and around Mobile, Alabama. In these areas new port developments are planned to handle these new shipments of ore.

A new U.S. Steel ore terminal at Mobile is typical of the development. The terminal is so designed that the ore is taken off the ships by 15-ton capacity ore unloaders, dumped onto conveyor belts which run the ore either directly to waiting rail cars, or to a storage pile. In addition to this facility, Mobile has a harbor program which includes deepening the channel from 36 feet to 40 feet, widening it from 300 feet to 400 feet, and enlarging the turning basin. The Army Board of Engineers has said that the improvement of the harbor was needed principally to serve carriers of metallic ores and crude oil. A substantial increase in the shipment of both of these commodities through the Mobile harbor is inevitable, according to the Board.

Baltimore has a new $5,000,000 facility for unloading ore, owned and operated by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. With its giant cranes, and conveyor belts, this pier will unload the largest ore carrier and clear it from the pier within twenty-four hours after its arrival. At the new Fairless plant, the Delaware River will be dredged to allow ore carriers to dock at the plant site.

Change in Economic Base

As the change in the location of the steel industry affects some ports, others may be affected by the change in the economic base of the area served by the port. Wilmington, North Carolina, was a growing port and an expanding city during the latter half of the nineteenth century, while the cotton trade was flourishing, and while North Carolina was a leading cotton producer. In the twentieth century, however, soil deterioration in North Carolina, and the development of new cotton-growing locations in the Southwest, led to a decline in cotton shipments and, as a consequence, port activities and city growth declined in Wilmington.

Recently, North Carolina, like the rest of the South, has been developing new industry at a rapid rate. In 1951, for example, new industrial capital investment for the state was of the order of $150,000,000, and the new production expected to result from this investment was $1,000,000,000 annually. With the idea that some of this new production will be shipped by sea through the port of Wilmington, and also that some of the goods that are presently shipped into North Carolina through other ports will, in the future, go through Wilmington, state and local officials have completed a $7,500,000 program for new facilities at the Port. These facilities include a 1,500 foot dock, with a double track railroad running along the berthing space, and sheds, warehouses, and other facilities. Whether or not enough trade will materialize to make the operation profitable is not clear, although tonnage through the Port of Wilmington has been increasing since the end of the war. Wilmington is a case in which the change in economic base brought about a change in port development. The change in economic base was brought about by the changing patterns of national industrial location.

The Design of Port Facilities

The design factors of cargo terminal facilities will, in conjunction with the volume and type of cargo that a port handles, largely determine the extent of land use for such facilities on the municipal waterfront. This is especially true of general cargo facilities, since bulk cargo facilities will usually be located separately from the commercial terminal and located together with industrial plants, grain elevators, etc.

The three basic elements of a waterfront terminal are the ship berth (which is the water area alongside the wharf), the base structure (or foundation), and the deck or superstructure. The berth and the base structure are fundamentally the same for all types of port facilities, whether they are for general or special cargo use. The deck composition, the communication layout, and the structure superimposed on the wharf base determine the type of terminal.

The depth of the ship berth needed is dependent upon the type of ship using it. Since the maximum loaded draft of the C-4 dry cargo vessel is 32 feet, Denison recommends a berth 36 feet below mean low water to serve this vessel. The extra four feet is a margin of safety, and because weather conditions sometimes cause the low water mark to be as much as two feet below mean low water. One comment should be made on the 36 foot recommendation. Thirty-six feet would probably be excessive for most ports, since few have channels deeper than 35 feet. Also, there are few vessels that draw over 30 feet, and these few, though they need three or four extra feet clearance when maneuvering in channel, do not need the same clearance when they are berthed. Only a few ports in the world have a low water depth of over 35 feet. Even the major world ports of Bremen and Glasgow have controlling channel depths of 28 feet or less at low water.

Another factor in achieving controlling depths of channel and harbor is the cost of dredging from the present depths. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates of this deepening for some Great Lakes ports reveals that the costs rise sharply as the channel is made deeper. (Table I)

The base structures (which will support the terminal) are of three different types, each suited to a different kind of shoreline. The quay is a solid, walled waterfront structure, usually on the margins of tidal or lock controlled basins. The basic structure of the quay is a simple one. There is an ample depth of water alongside the quay, and the sub-structure is capable supporting heavy loads. While these quays have a high original cost, they may be the cheapest in the long run. Quays built in European ports over a century ago are still operating efficiently because the base structure is permanent, and the superstructure can be changed to meet changing conditions. Therefore, the quay may be amortized over a period of one hundred or more years, as against about fifty years for other types of structures.


Harbor Controlling Depth Cost of Deepening to
27 feet 30 feet
(1948 Dollars)
Duluth 32' some parts; less in others 72,000 645,000
Toledo 25' to 16' 4,671,000 14,980,000
Cleveland 25' and less 324,000 1,439,000
Buffalo 21' and 20' 431,000 3,212,000
Chicago 25' to 21' 1,086,000 2,302,000
Milwaukee 21' 413,000 1,488,000

Source: Unpublished paper of Edward MacNeal for the University of Chicago Planning Workshop.

The marginal wharf is so constructed that the berth-side is supported and the in-shore portion is solid fill. This structure is best suited to a naturally deep shoreline. The pier is a wholly or partially supported structure built from the shoreline out to the natural contour, and is best suited for flat, shallow shoreline. Ships using a marginal wharf will berth parallel to the shoreline, and ships using a pier will berth with their length perpendicular to the shore. The pier has the advantage of using up less of the shoreline for each berth, an important factor where waterfront space is scarce. Approaching the ideal in harbor terminal development, according to the manager of the Port of Oakland, California, is the marginal wharf with very comprehensive facilities for storage and transportation.

In designing the cargo terminal, it is recommended that the engineering of the base structure be regarded separately from the engineering of the wharf-top structure that is to determine the operational use of the terminal. This top structure of sheds, aprons, platforms, and communication layout for the general cargo terminal should be planned for a limited period of time, rather than for the permanence that should be achieved in the base structure.

There is no single way of determining the design of the general cargo terminal. Besides engineering requirements, there are five important factors in this design: (1) the vessels that will use the terminal; (2) transportation facilities serving the terminal; (3) loading and unloading equipment; (4) the men who manage and operate the loading and unloading equipment; and (5) the organization and management of the facility and of the port. Some of the important recommendations in connection with these points are that there should be a minimum "handling" of freight. It is better if goods can be moved directly off the ship onto the next type of carrier — train or truck. Stevedoring should be mechanized to speed up the operations and lessen the costs of shipment. Finally, the whole supervisory and control function should be organized under a single responsible port authority.

The recommendation of standards is a difficult matter. A need for improvement is recognized by most port management personnel, especially when compared with European ports. Many European quays are modern by today's standards, although they were built in the nineteenth century. This is an example of what can be done if the basic structure is flexible and the modernization of the terminal facility is continuous and progressive. The standards shown below give us an idea of what is required in waterfrontage for adequate facilities.

Table II shows the overall average length and width of piers constructed shortly before 1945, of piers planned for construction after 1945, and the standard recommended by Lt. Col. Denison. For example, the Port of Philadelphia's new Municipal Pier 80 is 1,011 feet long, and 308 feet wide, including aprons. The width of the north and south aprons is slightly more than 38 feet, while the outshore apron measures 18 1/2 feet. This facility compares favorably with the standards in respect to width (308 feet to the 300 feet recommended) but is somewhat smaller than these standards in respect to length (1,011 feet to the 1,200 feet which would be the sum of two 600 feet units). Also the aprons and platform (outshore apron) are somewhat smaller in dimension than the standard.


Type classification Marginal Single Pier Double Pier
Length Width Length Width Length Width
Recently constructed 500 193 832 105 1,135 196
Suggested for future construction 540 195 1,200 150 1,225 224
Recommended Recommended 600-foot units in a series of three totaling 1,800 feet to a section-width 300 feet.

* All figures in feet.

Source: United States Maritime Commission, Miscellaneous Economics and Statistics – Port Development Section. Design Standards for the General Cargo Terminal from a paper given by Lt. Col. Charles A. Denison, in Proceedings of the 34th Annual Conventions, of the American Association of Port Authorities, pp. 91–97.

A transit shed is an in-transit shelter where general cargo is received prior to stowage aboard ship or after discharge from a vessel. The shed provides shelter and security for the cargo during the period when it is being assembled, sorted, segregated, checked, marked, and rearranged into unit loads, and such other details of pre-vessel and post-vessel handling required to complete the transfer of freight between shore carrier and ship. Transit shed area should be at least equal to the cubic foot area of the capacity of the largest ship the facility will handle. The standards below are figured on the basis of the capacity of our largest C-4 type vessel.

Transit shed clearance is a function of stacking height, which in turn is a function of the type of materials handling equipment in use. Modern equipment is capable of stacking to a height of 17 feet, and clearance below trusses is taken to be a 20 foot standard.


Type Classification Marginal Single Pier Double Pier
  Length Width Clearance Length Width Clearance Length Width Clearance
Recent Construction 462 148 15 1/2 714 77 18 1,010 130 17
Suggested 518 145 18 1,100 120 20 1,090 164 18
Recommended 550 165 20 No recommendation 550 165 20

* All figures in feet

Source: United States Maritime Commission, Miscellaneous Economics and Statistics — Port Development Section. Design Standards for the General Cargo Terminal from a paper given by Lt. Col. Charles A. Denison, in Proceedings of the 34th and 35th Annual Conventions, of the American Association of Port Authorities, pp. 91–97.

General cargo terminal arrangement is somewhat less important for our purposes, but it is interesting to note that Pier 80 in Philadelphia has aprons approximately 42 feet in width, and a platform of 18 1/2 feet.


Type Classification Marginal Wharf Double Piers
Apron Width Platform Width Apron Width Platform Width Distance Between Platform
Recent Construction 33 14 33 9 90
Suggested for Future Construction 38 13 35 12 107
Recommended 49 20 49 20 142

* All figures in feet.

Source.: United States Maritime Commission, Miscellaneous Economics and Statistics — Port Development Section. Design Standards for the General Cargo Terminal from a paper given by Lt. Col. Charles A. Denison, in Proceedings of the 34th and 35th Annual Conventions, of the American Association of Port Authorities, pp. 91–97.

In summary, the Denison report and the commentators on it agree that while the quay type of development is the "best," it is too expensive to consider, and they recommend the double pier. All agree that the standards must be adapted to meet certain conditions that will vary with each different situation. The standards are not necessarily targets to shoot at, but guides to the planners of waterfront facilities, to be thought of in relation to the needs of the port, its likely future activity, and the amount of resources which can be devoted to the construction of these facilities.

Probably the most important factor in all these developments is the attitude and spirit of the local authorities and the local leaders and citizens. Where an active, progressive spirit is lacking, it is unlikely that there will be satisfactory development in the port, or elsewhere in the city. Where there is lively interest in the future of the city, the result may be the coordinated activity of builder, user., and authority that is likely to produce satisfactory cargo terminals.

The most important aspect of the trend in port development is the increased use of over-the-road trucks for handling cargo, especially for less-than-carload (LCL) shipments. In the early days of port building almost all of the transfer was from ships to rail cars. Today, trucks are approaching the railroads in volume of cargo handled from ships, especially in general cargo. This development has consequences not only for the design of piers and other facilities, but for the general traffic situation of the city as well.

Waterfront Development Traffic Problems

Many cities have given implicit or explicit recognition to the waterfront traffic problem in their plans for the waterfront. San Francisco, in its Master Plan of Shoreline Development, provides that the waterfront be made accessible by a continuous modern highway. One of the objectives of the planned redevelopment of Cincinnati's waterfront is to relieve downtown traffic congestion and provide parking space.

The increase in the percentage of cargo handled by trucks has raised specific problems for many ports. The poorer the facilities of a port for trucks, the higher will be the costs to the shipper. Even where the port has other factors in its favor, it may lose to a lesser port which has better facilities for trucks. For example, the Port of Baltimore has a freight rate differential advantage for rail freight destined for the central area of the United States as against the Ports of Philadelphia and New York. In spite of this advantage, more of the general cargo bound for this central area is shipped through these other ports. What has happened is that rail freight rates have increased in the past few years, speeding the change-over to trucks. In Baltimore, the deficiencies in port facilities for handling truck-borne cargoes have handicapped the port in obtaining its full share of this type of business. As a result, only about 20 per cent of Baltimore's commerce is handled by trucks, as against about 50 per cent of New York's. An expressway system has been authorized within the city to alleviate congestion on the streets, including those which give truck access to the waterfront. Until this is carried out, however, the waterfront will not be in satisfactory condition for truck access to the piers. Baltimore will continue to do most of its business in such cargoes as are handled by rail.

Many other cities have expressed similar concern about waterfront traffic congestion. The Port and Harbor Committee of the Long Term Capital Improvement Committee of Miami says that the present location of the municipal docks is certainly not desirable in relation to the overall city plan because of the congested traffic in the area. The committee adds, however, that rail, truck and auto traffic in the area can be better regulated than they are at present, an improvement that would tend to ameliorate the situation. Relocation of the Miami port was not considered economically feasible at present.

The Buffalo report, Waterfront, discusses the traffic problems of an area of 150 acres which has deep water frontage on the outer harbor. The only industrial use of this area at present is the transfer and storage of lake-bound automobile cargoes. This transfer generates a tremendous amount of traffic during its operational hours. Similar congestion could be expected if there were some different type of industrial development on this site. Therefore, the report proposes a separate industrial service road to be constructed for this development.


Public officials, especially those elected, usually have one comment on all proposed improvements: "Where do we get the money?" There is a variety of sources for the funds to carry out port developments — current revenues of the port, current income of the municipality, bonds backed by the full faith and credit of the city, and various forms of authority or special district financing.

Port authority financing is discussed at some length in PLANNING ADVISORY SERVICE Information Report No. 35, Authorities for the Financing and Administration of Public Improvements, February, 1952. This report describes the difficulty the Port of New York Authority had in trying to sell its first revenue bonds for non-existing, untried projects. Finally, the two states involved, New York and New Jersey, had to appropriate money for the Authority. Today, because of its excellent record for self-liquidating ventures, the Authority has little trouble selling its bonds at a lower rate of interest than previously. One important feature of this type of administration and financing is that the Port of New York Authority is required to be self-sustaining, and does not enter into projects which will not at least pay for themselves. The Authority is, in fact, a public business enterprise, and the security for its bonds is in the earning power of the facilities which it operates, and in the management of its debt structure.

This means that for authority-owned and managed projects, there is no public subsidy. The lessening of the burden on the taxpayers was one of the original reasons for the creation. of the authority. It must be realized, however, that the requirement that an authority be financially self-sufficient could prove, in other cities, to be a disadvantage. It is not always true that good port management and adequate port facilities will be a paying proposition. However, there may be an economic need for port development and improvement to serve existing industries and possible future expansion. A subsidized port development may be necessary to secure the economic base of the city in cities. This means that while the port, on paper, would lose money, the city as a whole would gain a much greater amount.

There is precedent for such municipal subsidy, not only in existing municipal subsidies of parks, playgrounds, transportation facilities, and other non-revenue projects, but particularly in existing municipal subsidies of airports. There is no reason to think that the subsidy of an airport is essentially different from the subsidy that might go to a port development. The question of whether or not there should be deficit financing of port development cannot be answered without reference to the specific port and the specific conditions of the city which the port serves.

New pier construction in Philadelphia is an example of this kind of financing. Between 1946 and 1952, the City Department of Wharves, Docks, and Ferries constructed a new facility, the well-known Pier 80, South Delaware Wharves, incurring a city debt of about $7,000,000 in the process. The pier was recently leased for $262,000 per year, a sum nearly equal to the interest and debt retirement payment on the $ 7,000,000 so that there is little actual cost to the taxpayer and great benefit to the city. Philadelphia has a simpler problem than most cities because its trade activity is increasing (in 1949 14,228 ships entered and cleared the port, and this number increased to 16,359 in 1950). It is likely to expand even further with the development of the new steel plants and satellite industries under construction and projected for the Philadelphia area.

Capital Budget Programming

For the city planner, the most important aspect of port development financing will be the relation of the capital improvement program of the port to the program of the entire city. As yet, there are no standard procedures for capital budgeting, and no criteria have been developed to tell the planners and others concerned what projects are more important, which come first, which should have more funds, and so on. There are numerous examples of how capital budgeting has been done, and what port developments have been suggested for various cities.

The city of Miami, Florida, Proposed Capital Improvement Budget, discusses the location of the port, the existing facilities, the adequacy of the port, and makes recommendations for future changes. We have already mentioned their discussion of the location of the port (see page 21). In discussing the existing facilities, the Port and Harbor Committee points out that while the port is not of modern design, it has been efficiently managed and has shown an operating profit to the city averaging more than $100,000 per year. The condition of the facilities was not good, since the pier bulkheads and the buildings had seriously deteriorated by the end of the war, and from 1947 to 1950 the city had set aside the net profit of the port to rehabilitate these facilities.

Aside from the need for rehabilitation of many of the facilities, the port was found to be adequate to the existing commerce, and the predicted future increases. In 1936, the port had handled 360,000 tons of commerce. By 1948, this had declined to 201,000 tons. The Commission predicted that the continued growth of Miami will lead to an increase in port commerce to 350,000 tons in 1955. The capacity of the port is estimated at about 500,000 tons annually.

In view of all these facts, the Commission recommended against the immediate construction of a marine terminal with a capacity of 1,000,000 tons of dry cargo per year. It did recommend a $900,000 revenue bond issue to complete the rehabilitation recommended and begun in 1947. This bond issue would cost $66,000 annually, and could easily be paid out of the present $100,000 net profit from port operation, leaving $34,000 annually for other rehabilitation and expansion expenses.

The Miami experience shows us that in some cases at least, the question of whether or not to carry out a capital expansion program for port development can be answered in fairly simple fashion. The project recommended is obviously needed and can be afforded. On the other hand, there is no clear-cut need for the suggested marine terminal, and no way to pay for it out of operating revenue at present.

Another example is found in the records of the Port of New York Authority. The Authority examined a project which involved the rebuilding of a deteriorated obsolete facility, and estimated that construction and other costs would come to over $12,000,000. Revenue expected from the pier would provide a margin of profit of about $20,000 per year over operating, maintenance, and debt retirement costs. However, when the report was published on this project, it was found that construction and interest costs had increased by about 8 per cent, making the project marginal. It was therefore recommended that the project be postponed at the time. Once again, given the criteria of the Port of New York Authority, the decision was not difficult to make. If there had not at the time been so many other projects which were better financial risks, the decision would not have been so straightforward, because of the city-wide economic benefits which might accrue.


The power of the city to zone its land has been used on the waterfront for such purposes as flood plain zoning, restricting the uses of waterfront land and buildings, and. in general, to achieve a safe and economic use of the waterfront. Flood plain zoning has been used in many areas to limit the damage that can be done to areas subject to recurring flood hazards. Most of these ordinances appear in more or less rural and agricultural areas. Some zoning ordinances have specific provisions for waterfronts which are used for industrial or commercial purposes.

Reservation of the Waterfront for Industry

Not many cities have provisions for making sure that industries needing the waterfront will have access to it. The 1949 proposed revision of the zoning ordinance of Detroit, Michigan, set aside certain areas as W-1 Districts, with the following regulations:

"No building, or structure, or part thereof, shall be erected, altered or used, in whole or in part, for other than one or more of the following specified uses:

Boats and ship yards, docks, repair, service, sales or storage of boats. Docks, wharves, transit sheds and other facilities used in connection with water transportation or navigation purposes.

Sewage pumping and disposal plants.

Steam-electric power generation plants.

Water works or water-pumping stations.

Yacht harbors and clubs.

Any other use permitted, with or without special approval, in M3 districts, when approved by the Commission as being largely dependent upon direct access to water transportation for receipt or shipment or fuel supplies, goods, or commodities, or which require ready access to large quantities of raw water in amounts exceeding 1,000,000 gallons per day for condensing, cooling, washing or other mill or manufacturing purposes, and provided that the proposed use is found by the Commission as requiring direct access to the waterfront and being not contrary to the spirit and purpose of this ordinance.

Uses accessory to any of the above permitted uses."

The requirement that industry on the waterfront use at least 1,000,000 gallons per day will tend to insure that water-using industries get waterfront locations. According to figures cited earlier, a single ton of cold rolled steel requires 110,000 gallons of water. This is, in fact, a high estimate for rolled steel. The amount of water used may vary from 6,000 to 80,000 gallons per ton of finished steel product, depending on the product and the process, and the condition of the water. Hot rolled steel plates may require about 15,000 gallons per ton, while cold rolled, high carbon strip may require about 60,000 gallons per ton. A plant producing about 25,000 tons of hot rolled steel plates a year, or about 6,500 tons of cold rolled high carbon strip a year, would use 1,000,000 gallons a day. Modern plants produce a variety of steel products, and usually in larger quantities than these.

Youngstown today provides an example of the kind of problem that may arise through unregulated use of the waterfront. The Mahoning River in Youngstown is used by the steel plants for cooling; since the flow is low, the temperature of the river rises to as much as 140° Fahrenheit, in addition to carrying such poisonous impurities as the cyanide used in the steel-making process.

Protection of the Waterfront

In addition to protecting the waterfront from uses which might tend to add to pollution, erosion or other damage, zoning may be used to protect one use against another. In the case of Miami Beach, Florida, the narrow channels and bays are areas in which the length of docks, piers, etc., is restricted. The ordinance provides these restrictions:

"No dock, wharf, dolphin or structure of any kind shall be erected, constructed, or reconstructed so as to extend into Biscayne Bay a distance greater than twenty-five (25) feet, or so as to extend into Indian Creek a distance greater than fifteen (15) feet, or so as to extend into Collins Canal a distance greater than three (3) feet, or so as to extend into any other waterway in the city of Miami Beach a distance greater than five (5) feet."

The ordinance also provides for exceptions up to 125 feet in Biscayne Bay.

Zoning of Areas Under Water

In order to protect shoreline uses, the municipality may zone areas under water so that uses offshore will be restricted to uses similar to those on the shore. The city of New Orleans Zoning Ordinance provides that:

"All areas within the corporate limits … which are under water and not shown as included within any district, shall be subject to all of the regulations of the district which immediately adjoins the water area. If the water area adjoins two or more districts, the boundaries of the districts shall be construed to extend into the water area in a straight line until they intersect."

While the wording of the ordinance might be clearer, the intent seems obvious. The regulation is a way of insuring that uses along the waterfront will not be interfered with by different uses just off-shore.

Waterfront Zoning of Areas Outside the Municipal Boundaries

One of the first standards for satisfactory port development is that the development be planned and carried out by a single agency, usually of the authority type. When the physical port area extends over two or more governmental units, there is even stronger need for single agency development and control. Where the port area extends over more than one state, there is need for interstate agreement. The compact of 1921 between New York and New Jersey which created the Port of New York Authority is the best known example of such agreement.

More frequent is the port which is most important to one city, but whose natural boundaries extend into several municipalities. The law in about eight states has delegated some extraterritorial zoning authority to cities. To aid the development of the Port of Baltimore, an amendment was passed in the last election in the State of Maryland authorizing the State Legislature to give the mayor and council of Baltimore power to acquire or dispose of property for port development anywhere in the port area, without regard to city limits.


We have briefly sketched some of the recent developments and trends in municipal waterfront development. PLANNING ADVISORY SERVICE will be interested to learn from the experience of cities that have had recent experience with port development problems. Since we may, in the future, publish an information report on recreational, residential and civic uses of the waterfront, we would appreciate hearing of plans and activities of all kinds along the waterfronts.


General Works

CITIES AND RIVERFRONT LANDS. York Willbern, Bureau of Public Administration, University of Alabama, University, Alabama. 1947. 61pp.

LOCAL PLANNING ADMINISTRATION, International City Managers' Association, Municipal Management Series, 1313 East 60th Street, Chicago 37, Illinois. Ladislas Segoe, et al. 1941. 699pp.

THE MAJOR PORTS OF MICHIGAN. Albert G. Ballert. (Reprinted from the Papers of the Michigan Academy of Science, Vol, XXXV, 1949. Pub. 1951). pp. 137–157.

PLANNING THE MODERN CITY. Harold MacLean Lewis. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York, 1949. (Two volumes; Vol. I. 284pp; Vol. II. 224pp.)

RIVERFRONT. Edith Foster Howard. Bureau of Public Administration, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee. March 1949. 59pp.

WATER IN INDUSTRY. A Survey of Water Use in Industry by the National Association of Manufacturers and The Conservation Foundation. New York, December, 1950. 51pp.

WATERFRONT PLANNING AND THE MASTER PLAN. Samuel Zeitlin. Journal of the American Institute of Planners, Summer, 1945. pp. 27–32.

Periodicals, Newspapers, and Proceedings


CITY HINTS IT'S OPEN FOR A NEW PIER BID, but Port Authority Indicates It Won't Initiate Offer to Take Over Municipal Docks. New York Times, Monday, December 8, 1952.


"2 Anastasias Balk State Pier Inquiry." New York Times, December 6, 1952.

WORLD PORTS. 912 Eleventh Street, Washington 1, D. C.


THE PORT OF BALTIMORE HANDBOOK. (Second Edition.) 1952. Published by the Port Interests of Baltimore under the sponsorship of the Baltimore Association of Commerce Steamship Trade Association of Baltimore, Baltimore, Maryland, March, 1952, 162pp.

REPORT ON THE PORT OF BALTIMORE. Knappen Tippetts Abbett Engineering Company, New York. (Prepared for the Baltimore Association of Commerce and the State of Maryland.) Two volumes. Vol. 1. The Report, 52pp.; Vol. II. Supplements and Appendices, 144pp. December 31, 1949.)


WATERFRONT. City Planning Commission, Buffalo, New York. Unpaged, mimeo.


RIVERFRONT REDEVELOPMENT. City Planning Commission, Cincinnati, Ohio. 64pp.illus. $1.00.


PROPOSED PLAN FOR THE REDEVELOPMENT OF THE RIVERFRONT. City of Detroit, Master Plan. May, 1946. Unpaged.

PROPOSED TEXT FOR COMPREHENSIVE REVISION OF ZONING ORDINANCE. City of Detroit. Prepared by the staff, City Plan Commission, April 1, 1949. 20pp. (Not yet adopted.)


MIAMI — PROPOSED CAPITAL IMPROVEMENT BUDGET: Report of the Long Term Capital Improvement Budget Committee, Miami, Florida. 1950. 135pp.


MILWAUKEE HARBOR: THE MOST PROORESSIVE PORT ON THE GREAT LAKES. Published by the Board or Harbor Commissioners, Milwaukee, 1949. 39pp. illus. maps.

PERMANENT IMPROVEMENT PROGRAM. City of Milwaukee, June 1951. 1951–1956. 43pp. (Common Council's Long Term Improvement Program Technical Committee.)

New Orleans

FIFTY-FIFTH ANNUAL REPORT 1951. Board of Commissioners of the Port of New Orleans. 39pp.

FIFTY-SIXTH ANNUAL REPORT. As of Jun 30, 1952. 32pp.


CAPITAL PROGRAM 1952–57. Public Improvements, Philadelphia City Planning Commission. 123pp.

DELAWARE RIVER PORT DEVELOPMENT PLAN. Prepared for the Delaware River Joint Commission of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, November, 1948, by Knappen Tippetts and Abbett Engineering Company. 209pp. maps.

Port of New York Authority

MARINE TERMINAL SURVEY OF THE NEW JERSEY WATERFRONT. The Port of New York Authority, February 10, 1949. 65pp.


A STUDY OF THE PORT OF NEW YORK AUTHORITY. Frederick L. Bird. Dun and Bradstreet, New York, 1949. 191pp.

THIRTIETH ANNUAL REPORT, 1950. The Port of New York Authority, 198pp.

TWENTY-NINTH ANNUAL REPORT, 1949. The Port of New York Authority, 148pp.

San Francisco

SHORELINE DEVELOPMENT. Preliminary Report, the Master Plan of San Francisco. San Francisco City Planning Commission, September, 1943. 132pp.

U.S. Ports

A SURVEY OF UNITED STATES PORTS. George Fox Mott. Ph.D., Arco Publishing Company, Inc., 480 Lexington Avenue, New York 17, New York. 1951. 233pp.

COPYRIGHTED May not be reproduced or quoted without permission.