JUST TWO YEARS ago, the city's Central Delaware waterfront was known for big-box stores, the potential home of two controversial casinos, and a long history of squandered opportunity to create a vital asset for the city.

But in the past 18 months, that reality was transformed by a big, new vision, created with the input of experts and citizens. The foundation of that vision rests on balancing public access and amenities with thoughtful development.

The lastest step in reaching that goal was the hiring of a new president of the Delaware River Waterfront Corp., the entity created to replace the Penn's Landing Corp.

This week, Mayor Nutter appointed Tom Corcoran to that job. Corcoran comes from "the other side," having spent the past 25 years heading up Camden's Cooper's Ferry Development Association, and gets credit for revitalizing that waterfront with an aquarium, Campbell's Field ballpark and luxury housing, among other developments.

Corcoran clearly has the expertise for waterfront development and is considered politically savvy. That will come in handy here.

But if those are Corcoran's biggest strengths, they will also provide his biggest challenge. That is, the past template for waterfront development, which has rested on creating big glossy destinations - entertainment centers, casinos, high-rise housing and the like - is no longer relevant for our times or our city. The "visionary" aspect of the Civic Vision for the Central Delaware is the emphasis on smart public access, and creating strong links between the waterfront and the rest of the city.

We hope that Corcoran places as much value on grass, benches, bike trails and parks as he does on attracting big-money developments to the Delaware. Thousands of interested citizens will be watching to make sure he does.