Riverfront Park near Marietta, Pa. along the Northwest Lancaster County River Trail

Greenways and Reimagining the River Town

I have spent three decades contemplating place and how people and communities fit into the larger landscape. For a decade I worked on the Susquehanna Greenway, helping to craft the vision and organizational framework to encourage local communities to reconnect with the river while empowering them to plan and build their part of the evolving greenway network.


Greenways can be viewed as an advance in the evolution of parks and natural areas, requiring us to think holistically about a place and all the interconnections that are essential to its health, form and function. If parks are components, greenways are the interconnected system where the whole comes to life. It is through the greenway lens that we begin to see essential relationships, and the cause and effects of our actions. Water quality becomes a report card, an impersonal evaluation, on how we are doing as stewards of the land and water. As Luna Leopold said, “Water is the most critical resource issue of our lifetime, and the health of our waters is the principal measure of how we live on the land.”

Greenways and Water Quality

Through the measure of water quality, we know there is much work to be done to achieve the healthy environment and vibrant communities we seek as our legacy. And greenways are an essential part of any sustainable future. However, it will require us to expand the simplistic vision of a greenway as a park and perhaps a pedestrian trail.  Greenways of the future must be designed to achieve diverse benefits, including:

  • Restoring streams and rivers by reconnecting floodplains and improving community flood-resilience
  • Treating Stormwater as an amenity – slow runoff with capture, and cleanse through infiltration and natural wetlands
  • Connecting residents with the natural world to encourage walking and biking in everyday activities, the key to a healthy lifestyle and a livable community
  • Nourishing – greenways will become the hub for local food systems, places the community comes together to grow nutritious food in garden plots and orchards, as well as food forests and edible landscaping
  • Recreating – reimagine parks and natural areas to be vibrant components of modern living, creating public spaces for how people live, play, and socialize today
  • Innovation – seeking creative design solutions for flood-resilient housing and commercial structures, creating opportunity for private development and reinvestment in historic core communities

Greenways and Community

Building the greenway will engage residents, diverse stakeholders, and multiple partnerships. Reimagining our river towns will take a group effort including expertise in research, education, planning, advocacy, finance, engineering, art, ecology, design, programming and stewardship. Together we will create an extensive network of parks, trails and natural areas that revitalize our river towns, developing interconnected parks and functional alternative transportation networks, while preserving and restoring critical habitats and ecological function.

Photo: Riverfront Park near Marietta, Pa. along the Northwest Lancaster County River Trail – © Gregg Robertson

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