Back in the early days of the Coastal Area Management Act, North Carolina locked in a policy position regarding permitted uses of property next to water: the uses had to be “water dependent” or else they were not permitted. This policy was based on some science that showed water pollution increased significantly the more there were commercial and industrial uses next to the water. Some restaurateurs along the historic river walk in Wilmington chafed at that policy, and so in the mid-1990s I found myself walking beside the lower Cape Fear River with Joan Weld and Linda Rimer, then the two assistant secretaries for natural resources and environment in the State. The capable division director of the Division of Coastal Management, Roger Shecter, presented the thinking underlying the policy. But we agreed with the restaurant owners: it was better for the environment to get people back around the water, where they could enjoy the fruits of decades of regulatory efforts to clean up our rivers.
Our heads are round so thought can change direction. ~Allen Ginsberg
The legislature agreed. See S.L. 1997-337; 2007-485. Today it’s not just Wilmington, but also many cities (and other local governments) all over the United States who have decided to reinvest in their natural capital, rivers and streams, by encouraging people to visit, walk and perhaps sit and enjoy some food and drink. RiverLink in Asheville has helped that city’s long, hard efforts to reinvigorate the French Broad, so that today Asheville has both beautiful riverside parks and the River Arts district. Charlotte has put in huge work, particularly in the Uptown area along Sugar Creek, but also, with and throughout Mecklenburg County, in their SWIM program. Durham’s work on Ellerbe Creek is now understood not just as building a local amenity, but helping to solve one of the region’s biggest and thorniest water problems, the nutrient over-enrichment in Falls Lake. In South Carolina, Greenville has built its fantastic downtown revitalization around Falls Park on the Reedy.
The list goes on and on, as I found out recently when reviewing some foundation funding proposals for local water-related projects. It’s not just the big city, well-funded efforts: throughout the Southeastern United States, there are communities of every size that have planned and in some cases implemented river walks and other ways to get people back around the water. In fact, the list is so large and great that I want an app that will help you and me get to these places.