Vibrant Waterfront Communities: Case Studies

Throughout the Great Lakes, there are a variety of coastal communities dotting the shores — from large to small, from industrial-focused to tourism-tied. What community leaders all have in common is the challenge of balancing economy, ecology and aesthetics along their shorelines.

This balance often includes planning for vibrant coastal communities, including waterfront lands, waterfront infrastructure and waterways that are used for water-dependent uses and activities. Coastal communities support water-dependent uses while also providing for a mix of support industries and other uses that benefit from the presence of the waterfront, including public access.

Changing Landscape

Coastal communities are an integral part of the history and identity of Michigan and contribute to a sense of place in coastal communities. They are coastal assets that support local and state economies, provide recreational opportunities and attract tourists, enable shipping and transportation, and ultimately connect people to the Great Lakes.

However, Michigan’s Great Lakes waterfront is in a time of transition. As changes in coastal land uses, population, lake levels and waterfront industry occur, it is important to protect and preserve working waterfronts and to balance coastal land use to meet the needs of current and future residents and visitors and to protect the environmental quality of our waterfronts and waterways.

Waterfront Community Case Studies and Report

The Coastal Community Working Waterfront report, with 11 case studies, was compiled to describe national and state trends related to working waterfronts, identify what uses occupy coastal land and how communities are supporting and planning for their working waterfronts and to increase awareness of the importance of protecting water-dependent uses and public access to the Great Lakes.

This report is intended to serve as an information and educational resource for community leaders, resource managers and anyone interested in learning more about Michigan’s working waterfronts. This report seeks to convey both the importance of working waterfronts to the local and state economy and quality of life in coastal communities as well as the need for strategic waterfront planning that protects these assets.

  • Introduction — Includes overview information about working waterfronts in Michigan and other coastal states, how working waterfronts and other terms are defined in this case study investigation, and maps of the state Coastal Zone Management Boundary and case study communities.
  • Value and Context — Provides context information and an overview of economic assessments of the value of working waterfronts and water-dependent uses.
  • Case Studies — Community profiles that includes a waterfront narrative, waterfront land use analysis, asset inventory, SWOT analysis and summary of best practices specific to the community.
  • Waterfront Land Use — A summary of land use along the waterfront and within 1000 feet of the waterfronts in case study communities.
  • Best Practices — A compilation of best practices for maintaining viable working waterfronts as taken from case study communities.
  • Recommendations and Next Steps — Actions to be taken on the state and local levels.


If you’re looking for more information on coastal planning or information specific to harbors and marinas, see: Policy and Planning for Coastal Communities

Case Study Downloads


Charlevoix Case Study


Manistique Case Study





Port Huron


Sault Ste Marie Case Study
Sault Ste. Marie