Local View Column: Duluth has responsibility to preserve remaining views of Lake Superior

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Photo by Bob King for the News Tribune

Numerous municipalities throughout the United States have protected scenic vistas using various means of regulation. Seattle has more than 80 public viewscapes that are protected. Denver has protected panoramic views of mountains. Vermont prohibits billboards in order to maintain the views of rolling farmlands. And the state of New York has a policy to conserve and protect scenic beauty.

It’s time for Duluth to step up and preserve the remaining views of Lake Superior as well as prevent new buildings from “taking” views from others.

If it weren’t for the forward thinking of those responsible for the Lakewalk, the only way to get a view of Lake Superior from Canal Park would be renting a hotel room. City leaders have allowed development to encroach on the shores and scenic views of Lake Superior to the point where there are few unobstructed views within city limits.

The Oct. 11 article, “Height limit may be lifted for apartments,” reminded me of the lost view of Lake Superior and the Wisconsin shoreline from driving down 21st Avenue East. Once the public got a look at what was lost by the Beacon Pointe development, there was outcry. Despite public opinion, development continues to remove views of the lake.

Protecting scenic vistas and viewsheds from development (such as in the Endion neighborhood) allows a community to preserve that which is spiritual and aesthetic, provides for human well-being, and maintains the unique attributes that make Duluth the Zenith City. Scenic vistas are a type of open space and should be viewed by the city as such.


Perhaps it is not too late to allow residents to photograph vistas as a way to conduct a visual assessment to identify what views are at risk and to protect them from further loss. The responsible control of building heights, bulk, design materials, colors, and landscaping, along with the outright protection of viewsheds, may help with future conflicts surrounding the loss of public or individual scenic views.

If an area is zoned for a certain building height, that should be respected and not changed to suit a developer. Zoning laws that limit the heights of buildings based on their location near viewsheds are effective in protecting scenic vistas.

Irreplaceable views in Duluth have been eroded or destroyed by billboards, overhead utilities, parking lots, cell towers, and other structures. Developing an inventory through a photographic record of an area would help identify remaining scenic views. Then the city should declare a public policy to protect and enhance those resources and views.

Jill Jacoby of Rice Lake first studied viewshed protection at Vermont Law School, in the masters in environmental law and policy program. She participated in the citizens advisory committee to the North Shore Management Board, which afforded scenic protections to Highway 61. She currently is an online instructor of courses in sustainability and environmental studies for Fairleigh Dickinson University.

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