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.”

“The amount of social interaction in a place increases dramatically the more comfortable it is. The amount of affection increases enormously. The best places have the most people without their shoes on, you know, it’s a sign of being comfortable. And one of the key things is that you need to put your feet on something. So you can have one chair but if you have another chair to put your feet on you’re most apt to take your shoes off...It really is about being home, you know, this is one of your homes, and as you become more tuned into it, it becomes, you know, like another room in your house."

Fred Kent, City Planner, Founder of Project for Public Spaces, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people create and sustain public places that build communities.

The City of Boston seen from East Boston. The “revitalization” of the Harbor highlights a debate about real estate development and investment in creating public spaces, what kind of city Boston wants to be, and who ultimately benefits from this “revitalization.”

Paul Cumby watches his fishing line as he waits for a catch. He traveled from Chicopee, Mass., to enjoy an afternoon of fishing on the Head Island Causeway surrounding South Boston’s Pleasure Bay. During the summer, bluefin tuna, bluefish, haddock, striped bass, fluke, and winter flounder abound in Dorchester Bay.

LoPresti Park in East Boston exemplifies great placemaking: It is a welcome place where people choose to spend their leisure time. Some enjoy dinner at picnic tables while others play soccer at the nearby field, parents take their kids to the playground, and others bike by on the Harborwalk.

Imani and Shadrach Jean, residents of Dorchester, on their way to a friend’s house. Some sections of the Harborwalk are no more than a narrow path between two points. A utilitarian approach, versus a recreational one, seems to have been the guiding principle for the development of these open spaces.

Two visitors walk through “The Big Dog Show,” an art installation along the Harborwalk in the Charlestown Navy Yard.

Karen J. and Charlie Clark, residents of South Boston, are two of the many weekend visitors to this quiet corner of South Boston port to fish—or just to escape crowds in other spaces.

Katrina Jackson and her family at her son Karon’s birthday celebration on Carson Beach in South Boston.

A group of friends enjoy their day off at Spectacle Island in the Boston Harbor.

The Rowes Wharf section of the Harborwalk is accessible to the public, yet clearly is meant for residents rather than visitors. Like so many sections of the waterfront, the space is not recreational, but functional; the law (Chaper 91) communicates one thing, but the design of the space communicates something different.

Gary Doyle, his children, and their dog spend time on the Neponset River. This section of the Harborwalk is one of the few places (besides beaches) where people can dip their feet into the water. Most of the Harborwalk is separated from the ocean by rocks, fences, or walls.

Renee Stonebridge, now a resident of New York, lived in Grove Hall for some time and was a frequent visitor to the Harborwalk in Dorchester.

The Living Root Dragon Boat team warms up on the Fort Point Harborwalk. Coach David Parker mentions the difficulties the team faces during practice with access to bathroom facilities. Outside the downtown area, it's hard to find public restrooms, especially important for families with children and for elderly visitors.

Bill Le and his daughter, Ellen, walk along the Harbor by LoPresti Park. A nearby stone has the inscription, “A city is not an accident but the result of coherent visions and aims,” quoting architect Léon Krier.

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