Monday, November 28, 2011

What IS a Working Waterfront?

Welcome to my first post as a NOAA Coastal Management Fellow! Over the next two years I will periodically post updates, info and anecdotes to give you a taste of my experience as a Coastal Management Fellow.

For those that may not be familiar with this fellowship, the Coastal Management Fellow is a two year fellowship that is funded through NOAA and coastal states. Since 1996, the fellowship has provided fellow candidates and six states with the opportunity to compete for a fellow-state match. I am extremely grateful to have been selected as the fellow for Michigan and to work along side the Michigan Coastal Management Program (CMP) and Michigan Sea Grant.

While attending the fellowship matching workshop last April, one thing I heard over and over was the fellowship’s emphasis on the job learning, professional development, and mentoring. On this note, I am happy to report that already the fellowship has met and even exceeded my expectations. I don’t think a day has gone by where I haven’t learned something new about the organizations I work with, myself, or the issues I am engaged in. In the three months since I started the fellowship, I’ve had the opportunity to attend numerous conferences and prepare a poster for the recent Port Collaborative Summit. I now participate in the Michigan Climate Coalition and the National Working Waterfront and Waterways Coalition. My mentors/supervisors Emily Finnell (Office of the Great Lakes) and Mark Breederland (Sea Grant) and their colleagues have created a wonderful mentoring environment for me to develop skills, learn about their career paths, as well as build my understanding of the processes and programs within their organizations. We’ve also established an advisory committee of professionals with various areas of expertise to help shape, define, and ensure the value of the fellowship.

Currently, I sit in the Coastal Management Program, which is Office of the Great Lakes and within the Department of Environmental Quality. This means that I work in Constitutional Hall, immersed in the political environment of a capital city. It also means that I have exposure to other programs within the Office of the Great Lakes, as well as other divisions of DEQ. This is something I value more and more. I look forward to working with Mark up in Traverse City next year, where I’ll have the opportunity to work more directly for Sea Grant.

I’d like to move on and share a little about the issues I’ll be working on as a fellow. While much of this work is related, I find it’s easier to explain by breaking it down into a few components:

A) Defining, valuing, and identifying working waterfronts and their vulnerability, B) Implementing and evaluating the Waterfront Smart Growth Readiness Assessment Tool, C) Creating an economic and policy tool kit to help reduce the vulnerability of working waterfronts, and
D) Conducting a business census in a handful of coastal communities.

Overall, these pieces fit together to contribute to what we’ve identified as overall goals of the project, which generally include identifying hot spots (especially vulnerable working waterfronts) that resource managers should target and enabling communities to make informed land use decisions.
So, what is a working waterfront? It’s no accident that I’ve held off answering this question. It is in fact, a big question that I’ll be addressing and readdressing over the next two years. Based on the range of ‘definitions’ for working waterfront that various coastal states have adopted, I like to think of working waterfronts as zones that support water-dependent uses, while also providing for a mix of support industries and other uses that benefit from the presence of the waterfront. These areas have cultural and economic value and are an essential element one of Michigan’s greatest assets, its lakefront. Essentially, we seek to grasp a better understanding of value of working waterfronts in Michigan as well as the loss of these areas. An important component of this is understanding the rate of conversion from water-dependent to non water-dependent uses and activity. Note that in order to do this, terms such as water-dependent, non water-dependent, and water-enhanced need to be first clarified here in Michigan.

To understand the value of working waterfronts, I am collecting social, economic, and environmental information in communities and counties across the state to tease out trends in communities with or without a working waterfront. Later, I will be investigating a sample of communities at much greater detail by examining parcel data, looking at the spatial distribution of businesses that rely on access or adjacency to the coast, and visiting communities to learn more about their working waterfronts. I am currently in the data collection phase and look forward to sharing my findings.

With that, I think I’ll stop for today and invite you back to learn more about working waterfront trends and the Waterfront Smart Growth Readiness Assessment Tool next time!
Until next time,

Liz, NOAA Fellow 2011 - 2013 

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