Waterfront and harbour areas in coastal cities have been object for radical transformation during the last decades in many parts of the world. The large scale conversion of dock areas started in the 1970-ies, and this trend became more notable during the 1990-ies in the Baltics.
Urban districts that had been characterized by warehouses, shipyards, factories and heavy infrastructure got in the focus for city renewal for a number of reasons. The structures of industrial production shifted, several shipyards that had employed thousands of people closed down, factories moved to new locations. The logistics of trade and shipping also changed, goods were not longer transported in the way they used to be during the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. This required the construction of new modern port facilities in many coastal cities often situated in distance from older harbour areas. Many of the buildings in the abandoned waterfront districts are of a fairly recent date, from the 1960-ies and 1970-ies, erected immediately before the period when industrial restructuration started. However, many of these areas got in the focus for city renewal. Seaside setting, close situation to city centres and often also in favourable situation in regard to public transportation have made waterfront areas attractive for housing, usually on an upper economic scale. The deserted dock areas, are usually not considered as a problem, but as an asset. Areas that had been off limits for citizens, except for those who worked there (the accessibility to several Baltic ports were also limited due to military reasons), became open for the public.
The transformations of urban waterfront areas have in several different ways often been positive. Yet, they have also raised challenges related to questions of heritage. The large scale built environment in these areas can in many cases be said to reflect the very epitome of the 20th century industrial society and the infrastructure connected to it. There are also several other elements in these settings that are remnants from a recent part of history that has been of crucial for the developments within the Baltic region, for example military installations. These traces are of interest on a local scale in order to understand the specific conditions that has structured the present environment, as well as on a super-regional for the comprehension of the modern history of the Baltic region. It can also be noted that there also very often are interesting under water archaeological remains in these specific coastal close zones, dating both to historic as well as prehistoric times. They character of these archaeological sites can vary, from shipwrecks, to pre-historic settlements from times of varying coastlines. These sites can risk destruction, when the waterfront areas are developed to suit the needs for city renewal.
The challenge for heritage offices is to develop sound strategies, which allows a positive and dynamic city renewal that integrates elements reflecting the past, both from older and modern times, in these urban waterfront areas. How can one for example manage the problems that often are connected with the large scales of the historic elements in these zones? The scope of the heritage network focused on waterfront heritage is to learn from the range of different heritage strategies that has developed within this field since the 1990-ies in different countries surrounding the Baltic. The network will also help to develop a more superregional Baltic perspective on these questions in the present. What areas of interest are for example most important to prioritize in order to develop heritage practices allowing an economically and socially sustainable city renewal in waterfront zones.