Woman sitting outside Atlantic Wharf

The Massachusetts Public Waterfront Act and Atlantic Wharf

Atlantic Wharf demonstrates how a state law known as Chapter 91 protects and promotes the public’s right to the waterfront.

When Boston Properties redeveloped three historic mercantile buildings on the Fort Point Channel in the late aughts, known today as Atlantic Wharf, it worked with neighborhood and nonprofit organizations to determine the public benefits commensurate with a waterfront project of this scale. Among the benefits Boston now enjoys are indoor and outdoor plazas, water taxi docks, a large multipurpose room, Boston Society of Architects’ exhibit and program space, and the Gallery at Atlantic Wharf, where Leonardo March’s Another Room in the House is now on exhibit.

Boston Properties has a strong track record of civic- and environmentally minded projects. Still, it’s no accident that Atlantic Wharf includes this array of public benefits—or that these are the reasons the project is considered successful and vibrant today.

Thanks to Massachusetts General Law Chapter 91, the Massachusetts Public Waterfront Act, all waterfront development must serve “a proper public purpose.” Enacted in 1866, Chapter 91 codified into state law the ancient “public trust doctrine” that the air, sea, and shore belong to the public at large, not to any one person. Today, the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs is charged with upholding Chapter 91 to protect and promote public use of our invaluable waterfront.

Learn more about Chapter 91 on mass.gov

Explore the Citizens’ Guide to Chapter 91 from Conservation Law Foundation

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Atlantic Wharf is located at 290 Congress Street, between the waterfront and the Rose Kennedy Greenway in downtown Boston. Boston’s first green skyscraper, the mixed-use development offers community spaces and an array of programs for residents, visitors, and workers.