This summer I went exploring throughout the Boston Harbor. After a month of walking the Harborwalk, I got a nice tan and I lost a bit of that old fear of asking people if I could take their photograph. Along its contour, from Dorchester to East Boston, I discovered the Harbor has a rhythm. It varied in every section, influenced by the local infrastructure, the type of light, the amount of shade, the breeze, the temperature, and the visitors. In some areas this rhythm triggered a welcoming feeling. These places prompted mental plans to one day bring friends, and sometimes regret for not having discovered them earlier. As summer went by and I explored more, I attempted to photograph these places, focusing on who uses the waterfront, why, and in what manner—which prompted me to reflect what potential still remains to fulfill. I wonder if this is how place is created, place as creative process that influences “how your body feels on that seat, in that space”
This placemaking process along the Harborwalk is uneven. On one hand, the Harborwalk has open, dynamic, and enjoyable places like LoPresti Park in East Boston and Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park downtown. On the other, there are sections like those around the condominiums on Battery, Constellation, and Rowes wharves where I felt I was trespassing on private property or business annexes. The Massachusetts Public Waterfront Act, known as Chapter 91, guarantees access to the Harbor for all, yet access is an ambiguous concept if the goal is actually recreation or enjoyment. Thus, this unevenness.
The conversation about the Harbor should move towards the more difficult and subjective issue of placemaking. The key issue is how the Harbor will be shaped to create a place for the enjoyment of all. A focus on access has resulted in sections that feel like hallways, where people go from point A to point B. Placemaking is about vision, determining and reflecting the city Bostonians want, need, and deserve—not only as consumers, as workers, or as taxpayers, but as humans. The love affair with luxury-based development has eroded that vision, and planning initiatives in many sections of the Harbor have created spaces whose ultimate beneficiaries are those in the position to pay for such luxury. No matter how much access is protected, such focus is leaving most Boston residents excluded, de facto, from the recreational potential and the character of the Harbor as a space for all.
Imagine if the Rose Kennedy Greenway existed next to the ocean, instead of behind buildings. Now imagine this all around the Boston Harbor, from Dorchester to East Boston. Imagine a Harborwalk where you could walk or bike for 46 miles, or sit and dip your feet into the water, or eat a hotdog, or spend all day long with your family.
Ah, what a vision that would require—a vision to would create spaces that feel “like another room in your house.”