Kate Farrelly June 6, 2022

There’s a certain magic to transforming derelict docks into public spaces, warehouses into gleaming residential towers and industrial wasteland into parkland.

Around the world, governments have partnered with developers to produce award-winning waterfront precincts, humming with life. Here, we take a tour of three of the best.


London’s Canary Wharf

It’s hard to believe this thriving tech and financial hub was once the world’s largest port, attracting thousands of enemy bombs during World War II.

The docks were rebuilt, but by the early 1970s most had closed as shipping moved to bigger and better ports. The area was boarded off and left to deteriorate until the government turned its focus on the 52-hectare site in the 1980s.

Lendlease partnered with Starwood Capital to lead the regeneration of Canary Wharf, which opened in 1991 and today hosts 120,000 workers and an increasing number of residents as new developments are completed.

Alongside eight hectares of parkland and open space, there’s also plenty of hidden greenery. More than 8000 square metres of living roof space on top of the buildings makes the Canary Wharf area home to the largest green roof space in the UK.

It’s home to more than 150 office tenants, many of which are national or global headquarters, and five retail malls with over 300 shops, bars and restaurants. There’s also an award-winning public art collection and Canary Wharf hosts the annual Winter Lights festival and many other cultural events.

Sydney’s Barangaroo

Many Sydneysiders will recall the vast, featureless concrete apron that was the East Darling Harbour container wharf. Although long before shipping containers became de rigueur, the site was a thriving international port.

It also became the home of Millers Point Gasworks in the 1830s and in the war years was a vital link in the logistics chain, with essential war materials stored and shipped from the site.

In 2005, the NSW government announced the 22-hectare site would be transformed into a new urban precinct, with Lendlease responsible for Barangaroo South. Construction is almost finished on a mix of commercial, residential, retail and dining, along with a new landmark hotel, and residents are already enjoying the waterfront parkland, the Cutaway cultural venue and the high-end dining delights of Crown Sydney.

“Nearing completion, the waterfront city precinct accommodates an estimated 23,000 office workers, world-class residences including One Sydney Harbour and a thriving dining and retail offering The Streets of Barangaroo as well as an international luxury hotel,” says Lendlease managing director development Tom Mackellar.

“The area will include extensive parks and exceptional dining options, not to mention access to numerous ferries and an upcoming metro. The site, which had been closed off to the public for generations, has been given a new lease of life. Over half of the site will be open public space and the entire 2.2-kilometre foreshore walk will be publicly accessible once complete.”

New York’s Battery Park City

From a collection of derelict piers, Lower Manhattan’s Hudson River waterfront has been transformed into a residential oasis.

Named for a battery of cannons installed by the Dutch in the early 1600s, the site was used for container shipping and seaport traffic until the mid-20th century. But with traditional shipping replaced by freight container shipping across the water in Jersey City, the docks went quiet.

In the 1960s, the city reclaimed the land with urban planners given a blank slate to create their own idea of an ideal city neighbourhood. Now home to more than 10,000 residents, Battery Park has become a symbol of both post-industrial waterfront development and urban renewal.

Locals and visitors can shop in Brookfield Place, an upscale mall that includes a food court with offerings from some of the city’s top chefs, and take in picturesque waterfront views while strolling through Hudson River Park.

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