East Boston Waterfront

Stewarding a Boston Treasure

Jim Canales describes Barr’s new work to promote a great public realm along Boston’s waterfront.

Barr embraces as a core value the imperative to adopt a long-term perspective. We believe that philanthropic institutions have a unique ability to ensure that today’s decisions are informed by considerations for future generations.

Grounded in this principle, we are excited to announce today a new initiative focused on the Boston waterfront. Put simply, our goal is to promote a great public realm—one that provides exceptional parks and accessible open spaces; engages neighborhoods and their residents; welcomes people of all ages and abilities; incorporates great urban design; enables responsible development; and seamlessly addresses the critical need for resiliency and adaptation to climate change.

This work emanates from explorations we have engaged in over the past several months and from Barr’s mission to serve as both stewards and catalysts. The more deeply we considered the opportunity, the more clearly we recognized a need both to ensure the stewardship of a vital public asset and to help catalyze a comprehensive vision and support sustained action to protect and enhance it over time.

Boston is well recognized for its historic waterfront and harbor; yet, this public treasure is in jeopardy. In the absence of a long-term, comprehensive vision—and robust, well-resourced entities that protect and steward it—Boston’s waterfront has been at the mercy of rapid, and often uncoordinated, parcel-by-parcel development. Moreover, given what we know about climate change and the attendant risks of sea-level rise, we must embrace a long-term view for our waterfront, with special attention given to existing waterfront communities and prospective plans for development along the waterfront’s edge.

We have awarded just over $800,000 in grants during the past few months, in the initial stage of this waterfront initiative. These are motivated by a belief that the development and implementation of a robust, inclusive, and long-term plan for Boston’s waterfront and harbor will require the active engagement and leadership of key partners and other actors with deep roots and credibility in Boston’s waterfront neighborhoods, working with and alongside the City and other government agencies. Barr’s grants to date include:

  • A total of $350,000 to support the formation and first-year activities of Boston Harbor Now, an ambitious new entity created by the merger of the Boston Harbor Island Alliance and The Boston Harbor Association (with the latter organization already significantly supported by Barr for its climate-related work).
  • A $250,000 grant to The Trustees of Reservations to advance waterfront planning it had already begun and to determine the most constructive role it could play, in collaboration with other entities, in shaping a roadmap to achieve a shared waterfront vision.
  • A $210,000 grant to the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) to carry out visioning and the feasibility phase of a waterfront planning process as part of Imagine Boston 2030.

By working in partnership with the City via the third grant, we seek to animate Imagine Boston 2030 goals related to climate adaptation and the waterfront already articulated through public input and research. One part of this work is ensuring that planning for Boston’s waterfront aligns with the findings of the first phase of the City’s Climate Ready Boston project that Barr is supporting through our Climate Preparedness initiative. We recognize that there are also likely to be natural points of alignment with Barr’s Arts & Creativity and Mobility strategies.

While the majority of Barr’s grantmaking extends from the Foundation’s core program strategies, from time to time the Foundation will initiate work such as this, consistent with Barr’s mission of service and commitment to the long-term strength, vitality, and resilience of our region. These special initiatives will typically support targeted, time-limited efforts.

We intend to share additional updates as this work unfolds. However Barr’s role evolves, our core commitments remain to embrace a long-term perspective, to engage transparently, and to provide for the enforcement of existing and the development of new city and state mechanisms intended to protect the public interest in the waterfront.

In the end, we aim to enable and facilitate progress toward an ambitious, responsible, and actionable vision for Boston’s rapidly-changing waterfront—one that considers the needs of all Boston residents, embraces a long-term view, and ensures we protect and steward one of Boston’s most treasured assets.

View Barr's waterfront grants

Since this blog post was published, media coverage on Barr’s waterfront work has included:

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Jim Canales

James E. Canales

President & Trustee