Historic Trends


As described in the report History, Status, and Trends of Working Waterfronts working waterfronts in the U.S. range from the huge container ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach, and New York/New Jersey, to the petrochemical terminals of the Port of Houston on the Gulf and the cruise ship terminals of the Port of Miami to the many hundreds of smaller commercial and fishing ports and recreational boating harbors along the nation’s ocean shorelines, Great Lakes and navigable rivers.  Though the nation’s working waterfronts vary greatly in scale and type of activities they support, their common and defining characteristic is the physical access to navigable waters they provide for uses that depend on this access.  Regardless of size, these waterfronts are distinctive and irreplaceable assets contributing to economies and culture of their communities and regions.

The nation’s approximately 360 commercial sea and river ports move a variety of cargoes between domestic and overseas markets.  The hundreds of mid-size and small ports and harbors often support specialized commercial operations such as fishing and fish processing, petroleum terminals, passenger water transportation and/or recreational maritime activities important to their host communities and regions.  Vessel building and repair exist in both large and small harbors and recreational boat marinas and related facilities are perhaps the most ubiquitous water-dependent use of harbors along all coasts and waterways.  Working waterfronts support local businesses, provide jobs and attract visitors.

Today, many working waterfronts are undergoing transition as some traditional water-dependent activities have contracted in size and demographic and economic trends bring higher land values and development pressure to convert working waterfronts to other land uses, particularly residential.  While diversifying land uses can help revitalize a community’s waterfront, attention to the amount and compatibility of non water-dependent uses and retaining access is essential to long-term success of this strategy. See the case study about Gloucester, MA.