Astoria's Riverwalk holds lessons for downtown developmentCities are rediscovering their waterfronts. San Antonio was one of the earliest and became a national icon. Baltimore did it in the 1970s. In Oregon, Portland and Pendleton have done it, and Grants Pass has just launched its rediscovery of the Rogue River.

Of all these, Astoria has one of the grandest waterfronts. The Columbia River some 13 miles from its mouth is a broad swath, some 3 miles wide. It is a storied stretch of water, described by Indian legend and also by Robert Gray, Lewis and Clark, Washington Irving as well as by latter-day writers such as Robin Cody, Timothy Egan and Rex Ziak.

To say that other cities would kill for a waterfront vista such as Astoria's is obvious. But for decades the town emulated other cities by turning its back on the Columbia.

The Sixth Street Pier Park, promoted by the entrepreneurial Astoria City Councilor Doug Thompson, debuted in 1979. Then-city planner Paul Benoit began to envision a river walkway that would give everyone an opportunity to take in the majesty of the Columbia while getting some exercise.

A grant here, a gift there and the eventual product is a path that extends from the Port of Astoria to Alderbrook. Total cost thus far is some $1.6 million.

The benefits of the Astoria Riverwalk are manifold. The town has become known in the region and far beyond for the trail. It is an amenity prized by residents. There is also a public health payoff. Researchers are realizing that towns which provide more opportunities for walking may see a decrease in heart-related illness.

The incremental nature of the Riverwalk's development is important to grasp. Benoit, the city and his successor have completed this project over more than a decade, piece by piece. It did not emerge full blown. That is an important lesson for those who are looking at prospective downtown development.

As Sandra Swain's Friday article noted, the Riverwalk's completion is an event to celebrate.

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