With many upcoming New Haven development projects centering around the city’s 18-mile waterfront, the public gathered Thursday night to discuss the future of New England’s second busiest seaport.

Approximately 250 people attended a forum at the Shubert theater called “Sound Ideas for New Haven Harbor,” which the Woman’s Seamen’s Friend Society and the Urban Design League jointly sponsored.

“This is what we consider to be the beginning of a learning process,” society Director S. Willard Crossan III said. “I have found in my travels around the city that there is very little known about New Haven Harbor.”

The Woman’s Seamen’s Friend Society of Connecticut began in 1844 as a missionary and aid group for sailors visiting the port. The year-old New Haven Urban Design League includes local preservationists and environmentalists concerned about redevelopment in the city.

The forum featured an hour-long slide show presentation about the port of New York City from Kent Barwick, director of the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance and president of the Municipal Art Society of New York.

“I believe in many ways that New Haven and New York have made the same set of mistakes with their waterfronts,” Barwick said.

His slides exhibited areas of concern along the New York waterfront, particularly vacant industrial sites, numerous brownfields and environmentally damaged parcels.

Waterfront industry is not necessarily the best use of the space, Barwick said.

“We’ve learned that mixed-use facilities lead to a more vibrant waterfront,” he said.

Along these lines, New Haven’s River Street redevelopment proposal will replace the blighted Fair Haven waterfront tract with mixed-use properties.

Barwick said New York lacks waterfront parks, another staple of the New Haven port. The city has several such parks, including Lighthouse Point. New Haven’s Harbor Plan calls for developing Long Wharf Park, which would be connected to New Haven and the other areas of the state via the Farmington Canal Trail.

The Harbor Plan also recommends creating an industrial rail spur along the waterfront, something that New York lacks on the Manhattan side of its port.

Some audience members were disappointed that Barwick did not focus on New Haven.

“I came out to see what the future holds for New Haven harbor,” said Adam Bothwell, a New Haven resident in attendance.

Still, some people felt they learned from the presentation.

“A lot of what he says applies to New Haven,” Anna Holden said. “This is a good chance for the public to become involved.”

The events organizers will arrange for future workshops, forums and an Internet Web site that will allow the public to continue discussing port-related issues.

One area of particular concern is the establishment of a New Haven port authority.

With over 450 ships arriving annually, New Haven is the largest American port without a municipal port authority. Last year, the state established Port Connecticut, a port authority with limited powers overseeing the ports of Bridgeport, New Haven and New London.

“Port authorities are like money,” said Anstress Farwell GRD ’78, the president of the Urban Design League. “They can do good and they can do evil.”

Other waterfront projects include the redesign of Interstate 95 and the potential infusion of anchor projects, such as museums and other specialty sites.