Mayors Discuss Waterfront Planning and Ferries at the Boston Harbor For All Summit

Mayor Kim Driscoll of Salem, Mayor Thomas McGee of Lynn and Mayor Marty Walsh of Boston participated in a discussion about the future of the harbor last Thursday as part of the Boston Harbor for All Summit.

The overarching question posed to the Mayors was, “What does ‘Harbor for All’ mean for you, your city, and the people who live and work there?” All three talked about the growing value of the harbor as a resource to drive economy and transportation, as well as the importance of maintaining and improving public access to open space.

Mayor Walsh emphasized the importance of creating open space along the harbor and reiterated the Imagine Boston 2030 plan to maximize our waterfront potential and preserve it for future generations. He spoke about making sure the City is smart about new developments and that these are resilient. New buildings should be designed in a way that is prepared for climate change, creates open space, and also protects the already existing areas around it.

Preparing for Climate Change

All three Mayors expressed concerns about climate change and preparing for future storms. What types of barriers might be needed to keep rising sea levels from causing more flooding like the storms this past winter? Some possible ideas include a seawall or gates out in the harbor. UMASS Boston has been working on a barrier study that should be released soon about what may be the most effective.

In Boston, Mayor Walsh talked about raising parks 40″ to prepare for future flooding. The building of park features at a higher elevation is something that is included in the design concepts for the Langone and Puopolo Parks improvements.

Mayor Driscoll, Mayor McGee and Mayor Walsh all agreed that they need to engage the state collectively to stress the importance of putting money toward preservation of our waterfronts. The population is shifting toward the coastline and we need to protect our homes and industries.

Water Transportation

The Mayors then moved to discussing water transportation. Everyone agreed that a future harbor ferry system needs to be not city-by-city, but a coordinated effort between the cities on the waterfront. Mayor Walsh tied ferries in with climate change action, saying this form of transportation would reduce cars and thus reduce carbon emissions. He suggested the Environmental Bond Bill could help with ferry development. Of course, these ferries would need to be well-marketed and reliable.


The last topic was gentrification. Mayor Walsh discussed the delicate balance of needing private developers to help pay for harbor resiliency and public open space, and the concern of bordering off the harbor with expensive developments. This is a bigger question about housing and how to get people living in the city to stay in the city. He stressed the importance of maintaining public access to the harbor.


In the Q&A portion of the event, attendees asked about more parking for motorcycles to reduce cars, as well as more opportunities for recreational boating such as public slips and metered docking. All three Mayors agreed these would be helpful in addressing transportation issues, as well as boost the economy.

This sold-out event was held at the New England Aquarium IMAX and moderated by Bud Ris, advisor to the Green Ribbon Commission and the Barr Foundation. The Boston Harbor Summit for All continues on Wednesday, May 30 with a daylong program of talks and discussions on planning for the future.