Vibrant waterfronts and walkable downtowns are just the beginning.

By Jennifer Brunnemer Slaton
March 28, 2019
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Mashpee, Massachusetts, one of our 2019 Best Places To Live
Tyra Pacheco

In our 2019 list of the Best Places To Live on the Coast, we paid close attention to qualities that make a place and its people healthy and happy: lively, livable waterfronts; bike-able streets; less sprawl and more walkability among charming, vernacularly-relevant architecture.

Here are four of the most exciting ideas we encountered, from smarter street design to living shorelines. Now imagine how they could be used where you live.

Seattle's Waterfront District
Viswanath Ganta / EyeEm / Getty Images

Doubling Down on Waterfront Districts

Breezy waterfronts offering a live-work-play lifestyle are relocation magnets, and the newest wave in the trend is higher-density waterfronts, says award-winning urban planner David Dixon, co-author of Urban Design for an Urban Century: Shaping More Livable, Equitable, and Resilient Cities.

“There’s nothing more amenity-rich than a walkable, cool, mixed-use waterfront,” he explains. “It’s the most potent economic development tool that a region can have.” Places like the Waterfront Seattle district and the Water Street Tampa development (under construction now with approximately 3,500 planned units bringing residents to the neighborhood beginning in 2021) are reenergizing downtowns.

“Walkability has really become the predominant value, and it requires density to support life on the street,” Dixon says. “When you combine waterfront, walkability, and lots of choice, it’s a tremendously powerful formula.”

vgajic/Getty Images

Rebooting Street Design

The number of bicycle commuters in the nation increased by 43 percent between 2000 and 2017, according to The League of American Bicyclists. Increasingly, cities and towns are making infrastructure changes to adapt to the new normal on the street. “It’s exciting to see cities start

to invest in this and take it seriously,” says Mike Lydon of StreetPlans, which explores how to create space not just for pedestrians and bikes, but also for scooters, electric bikes, skateboards, and other forms of active mobility.

“We have a long way to go to be like European cities, but we’re starting to get there.” If your town isn’t already riding this wave, Lydon’s firm’s free downloadable “Tactical Urbanist’s Guide to Materials and Design” advises city leaders and citizens on how to use low-cost, scalable interventions like pop-up and more permanent bike lanes, pedestrian plazas, and parklets (sidewalk extensions) to catalyze long-term change.

Sean Hannon/Getty Images

Fighting Erosion with Living Shorelines

From Mobile Bay, Alabama, to Washington’s Puget Sound, living shorelines are gaining traction against the challenges of sea-level rise and storm erosion in estuaries, bays, tributaries, and other sheltered shores. Though still small in number compared to hardened solutions like bulkheads and seawalls, the natural barriers not only provide erosion-control benefits, but also protect or restore natural shoreline habitat, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Using strategically placed oyster shells (often in bags), plants, stone, sand fill, logs, and even organic material like coconut husk fiber, living shorelines absorb wave energy, improve water quality, provide fish habitat, and increase biodiversity—plus they’re proving to be more resilient against storms than bulkheads. The best way to manage Mother Nature may be to greet her on the shore with nature itself. See for more.

Inset: The original Mashpee Commons shopping center, in the 1960s; Mashpee Commons today, with walkable streets and vernacularly-relevant architecture
Inset: Courtesy of Retrofitting Suburbia, by Ellen Dunham-Jones and June Williamson; Courtesy of Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism, via Congress for the New Urbanism

Transforming the Sprawl

Moving away from creating large, new developments, a growing number of New Urbanists are taking on reinventions of existing places and transforming them for the better. “Cape Cod’s Mashpee Commons was one of the first of those experiments in reinvention,” says Steve Mouzon, a Miami Beach–based architect, designer, and founder of The New Urban Guild.

“It started as just an aging shopping mall out on the highway.” Over the decades since then, it’s emerged as a vibrant New England village with public spaces, shops, restaurants, and residential living that’s still growing today. There are increasing suburban-retrofit success stories in places coast to coast, from Seattle and Portland to Orlando. “Rather than abandon sprawl,” Mouzon says, “we need to heal it.”

Related: 10 Best Little Beach Towns in Florida