Community Real Estate

Is it Time for the Wharf District?

The “Wharf District” as a neighborhood has been something that people talk about, but not very seriously. That might be about to change. It’s tough to establish a neighborhood, let alone a name. Just look at the Seaport District. Sorry, I mean the South Boston Waterfront. Err, is that now the Innovation District?

An article this week by the Boston Herald’s Greg Turner has raised the subject of a burgeoning part of the Downtown Waterfront, with some residents and businesses organizing under the Wharf District Council.

“We’re kind of filling a gap between the North End and the Financial District,” said Bud Ris, CEO of the New England Aquarium, an institutional member of the council. In monthly meetings, “We’re trying to figure out what we can do to make sure that new developments or open spaces are compatible with the character we’d like to see.”

The Wharf District Council is a private group, set up a few years ago by the residents and businesses in and around Harbor Towers and Rowes Wharf. With the recent additions of the Intercontinental Residences and Atlantic Wharf development, the district now extends from Long Wharf to Congress Street, including the area abutting the Greenway on both sides.

Most neighborhood and city maps still have the Wharf District labeled “Downtown.” The North End’s southern border is usually shown ending at Christopher Columbus Park. To the south is the Fort Point Channel area, another up and coming community that has organized its own Neighborhood Association.

There has long been a relationship between the North End and its Downtown Waterfront neighbors. Harbor Towers and Rowes Wharf residences were grandfathered into the North End / Waterfront neighborhood groups back when the Neighborhood Council, NEWNC, was set up in the mid-1980s, and subsequently followed by the NEWRA, the Residents’ Association in the 1990’s. Residents of those developments can vote in NEWNC elections and join as members of NEWRA. In fact, the current President of NEWNC, Donna Freni, is a Harbor Towers resident.

The Wharf District group was involved in the design and development of the Greenway parks in the area fronting Harbor Towers and Rowes Wharf. Council President Suzanne Lavoie also sits on the Greenway Conservancy Board of Directors. Another project involving the group has been the BRA’s Crossroads initiative where Broad Street meets the Greenway.

It is unclear whether the new extension of the Wharf District (Atlantic Wharf and Intercontinental), will choose to align with the Wharf District or the Fort Point Channel District, another burgeoning area of Boston neighborhood development.

When is a neighborhood a neighborhood? Hard to say. In Boston, neighborhoods are often marked by resident parking signs, something the Wharf District is lacking. Many would say that you’re not a neighborhood until you can get a resident parking sticker. Then, there is political representation. The Wharf district is lumped into the huge Precinct 6 of Ward 3 that includes most of the Downtown area. As more residents and businesses establish themselves, some type of city precinct redistricting could more formally acknowledge the arrival of the neighborhood.

I am obviously biased, but there needs to be community media coverage. Areas like the North End and Beacon Hill count on local newspapers and blogs to keep them informed of community affairs. The Fort Point District already has a blog.

So, where does stand? This site’s primary coverage area is the North End and its surrounding Waterfront. However, we often cover issues impacting the Wharf District, or Greenway area, or Downtown Waterfront, or whatever else you want to call it. Go to and see what happens. We have long described the North End / Waterfront and Wharf District on our Living Here page as follows:

Borders and Boundaries – North End / Waterfront

The North End is bounded to the north and east by the waters of Boston Harbor, extending inland west to N. Washington St. and Surface Road along the Greenway (formerly the Central Artery) and south to Christopher Columbus Park. On the western side of the Greenway, the North End has a border with the Faneuil Hall/Quincy Market area (i.e., the “Market District”).

The North End has a “Waterfront” which is a loosely defined perimeter area on Boston Harbor. It extends from the Charlestown Bridge on the northern side of the North End, around the perimeter to the south inclusive of Christopher Columbus Park to Long Wharf. On Commercial Street and extending south along Atlantic Avenue are numerous wharf buildings that form the North End’s Waterfront area.

The Waterfront can also be said to extend outside the traditional North End into Downtown to include the area south of Christopher Columbus Park on the harbor side of Greenway. This area of Downtown is often referred to as the “Wharf District,” including Harbor Towers (East India Row) and Rowes Wharf which also have large residential populations. Development south of the New England Aquarium is often referred to as the Wharf District.

Boston Neighborhood Map – Boston Redevelopment Authority (Click for PDF)
Wharf District extending from Long Wharf on the left to include the New England Aquarium, Harbor Garage, Harbor Towers and northward past Rowes Wharf. (Photo by Matt Conti)

2 Replies to “Is it Time for the Wharf District?

  1. I love being part of the NorthendWaterfront district and have no desire to change. As a neighborhood we have common goals and strength in our numbers.

  2. Mary, the only time I ever see common goals from block to block even is when a skunk invades and everyone hopes it leaves fast. There are distinct areas of the Waterfront that are inextricably linked to and a part of “The North End.” This ends abruptly where Commercial “becomes” Atlantic. People in Harbor Towers taking votes on what happens on my block is ludicrous. They will say that this or that impacts us all. However, turn the tables and let some of us start telling them how to live or run businesses. See how fast their “strength is numbers”–and likely wealth (and how many lawyers live there?)–squashes our voice.

    We also need a Wharf District because there is now–just as The North End and the Waterfront on Commercial are one neighborhood–a link between the Atlantic Avenue residents and those of the newer apartment homes within the portion of Downtown off Atlantic that is unrelated to the Financial District. There are at least a half-dozen residential buildings on both sides of the Atlantic Avenue Greenway parcels.

    Considering also The South Boston Waterfront district’s similar apartment and condominium arrangements, an association between the two (such as we have “The North End / Waterfront”) is only natural. Though I do need to consult my Oracle on what Acronym could be devised for such a marriage. All I can think of now is SOBOWOFO.

    Point is, landscapes and links change. I would be remiss in my duty as a responsible commenter not to acknowledge the stunning contributions of Donna Freni and other Harbor Tower residents whose contributions, large and small, have benefited us all. That lives separately from any consideration of whether we remain a realistic whole.

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