Tatiana Choulika and Colin Curley of James Corner Field Operations at Portage Cove.

James Corner Field Operations is in Haines to start a community dialogue about how residents want to develop Portage Cove.

It’s quiet at the cruise ship dock in Haines. Without any ship in port, the typically bustling waterfront is still. But Tatiana Choulika and Colin Curley of James Corner Field Operations see potential for healthy growth.

“There’s a real opportunity to chart a future here and celebrate everything Haines has to offer,” said Curley.

“Haines is a very special place and I would like to see it kept special. I would hate to have people say: ‘You should have seen Haines when…” you know?”

Choulika and Curley are in Haines to present their Portage Cove research and get community feedback. It’s part of a move by Carol Tuynman of the Alaska Arts Confluence to bring world renowned design thinking to a local development project.

ProHNS is the design firm tasked with completing the Portage Cove trail. Alaska Arts Confluence hired James Corner Field Operations to contributing insight and input. The award-winning landscape design firm is famed for dozens of innovative projects–includingNew York City’s HighLine and Seattle’s Central Waterfront in Washington.

“What we do most of the time is repair places that have been destroyed by industry. We takes these sites and we try to bring them back to life,” said Choulika.

Haines is unlike most of James Corner Field Operations’ clients. The landscape architects are used to rehabilitating densely populated urban zones and waterfronts. But Choulika says good design can prevent the kind of destruction they’re usually called to remedy.

“That’s the role of design: to find solutions to problems,” Choulika said.

If their work in Haines were a doctor’s visit, it would be more like preventative care than emergency room.

“This isn’t triage,” laughed Curley.

They hope to help residents plot a chart for growth, rather than have growth thrust upon them. By planning a  future the community can support, they hope to help Haines stave off the fate of some toxic waterfronts they’ve been paid top dollar to fix.

This visit is a house call.

“It’s very important to understand the spirit of a place, to capture it and to respect it. To respect and love everything there is here,” said Choulika.

Choulika and Curley head back up the dock. This is their last visit–for now–but their work may help guide the direction of waterfront development in Haines for years to come.

James Corner Field Operations will be in conversation with the public on Friday night (September 6) at 7 p.m. at the Chilkat Arts Center. Residents can still submit input to the Alaska Arts Confluence.