Boston Harbor Now, an organization dedicated to bringing the Boston Harbor back to the people, hosted a panel that invited waterfront leaders from across North America to talk about how their cities are developing their waterfront spaces on Thursday evening.
Celebrating the 35th Anniversary of Boston’s Harborwallk throughout the month of October, the organization invited special speakers to discuss the legacy and future of the Harborwalk.
“Boston Harbor Now has one purpose and that’s to protect, improve, and promote Boston Harbor and its islands” said Jeff Porter, board chair at Boston Harbor Now and Environmental Law Practice, “We do that by increasing the resiliency of the Harbor and the islands, by improving its facilities, and by maximizing public access.”
Former mayor Raymond L. Flynn, who has a marine park named after him in South Boston, was represented by his son Ed Flynn at the meeting. With the goal of making the Harbor more welcoming and accessible to the public, Flynn’s father worked alongside the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) during his time as mayor to create guidelines and regulations that would ensure that the shoreline was accessible to all.
Lorraine Downey, considered the pioneer of the Harbor parks by those at the meeting, was one of the first to fight for public access along the Harbor. She, alongside other members of the Boston Harbor Association, were recognized for their work on bringing the Boston Harbor to the public.
“I had no idea how wide this [Harborwalk] should be. So I took the biggest conservation commissioner I had at that time, which was John Lewis, and I measured his shoulders. I timed it by four and then gave another couple of feet. So I wrote an order on the permit saying you have to give me five feet of public access sidewalk on the water’s edge,” Downey explained in a comical retelling.
Although the hard work of those recognized at the meeting brought 43 miles of connected waterfront public walkway to Boston’s Harbor, climate change has forced the City of Boston to reconsider the Harborwalk’s role in protection against rising tides.
Waterfront leaders from cities such as Seattle, Washington D.C., and Pittsburgh addressed those at the meeting on how their waterfront projects have been developed. One issue that was discussed regarded the difficult relationship between the public sector and the private sector when it comes to funding and ownership of waterfront developments.
Vivien Li, former head of the Boston Harbor Authority, explained that bringing these two sectors together requires compromise, collaboration, and a mutual give and take in order to accomplish a successful waterfront development.
However, once the investments in these waterfront properties have been made, how do cities ensure that the public utilizes the new space?
Michael Stevens, president of Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District, discussed how the city of Washington, D.C. activated their waterfront parks by cleaning up the river to encourage swimming as well as hosting concerts, festivals, and exercise programs in order to create a sense of community.
A late peak leaf season across New England this fall has demonstrated one of the many effects of climate change. An ever-present concern, the City of Boston has pushed initiatives to address the changing climate and protect the residents of Boston—especially those vulnerable on the waterfront. Boston Harbor Now has been one of the leading organizations dedicated to rebuilding a resilient, accessible Harborwalk to combat climate change and reopen the Harbor to the public.