Creating a Boston Waterfront for All

Special initiative aims to ensure that all people can access and benefit from one of Boston’s greatest public resources.

Taxpayers spent $25 billion on the Boston Harbor cleanup and the Big Dig. This unlocked massive development potential along the water: More than $8 billion in new waterfront development is in construction, planned, or being built now. But we need to make sure that taxpayers get their due and that the public benefits from this building boom, not only private investors.

In fact, Massachusetts state law in place for 150 years aims to preserve and protect the public’s rights to the waterfront. But uncoordinated development, inconsistent enforcement of regulations, and short-sighted decisions have resulted in drastic differences from block to block and neighborhood to neighborhood.

Too many areas are unfriendly to pedestrians, blocked off for private use and profit, and devoid of family and recreation spaces. People are being displaced from what used to be welcoming and affordable neighborhoods. And homes, businesses, schools, and roads near (and not so near) the water are experiencing regular flooding and damages from major storms and rising sea levels.

We already have proof that the waterfront can be a great place to live, work, and play. Some of Boston’s beloved parks and destinations are along the water, such as Castle Island in South Boston and the Charlestown Navy Yard. A strong working port provides more than seven thousand jobs and generates $4.6 billion in value for our regional economy each year. And waterfront neighborhoods like East Boston and Dorchester still boast people and cultures from around the world.

Mystic River Watershed Association Charlestown waterfront open house

Mystic River Watershed Association

What needs to change so that these bright spots are the rule, not the exception, along Boston’s 40-some miles of shoreline? How can we ensure that the people of Boston today and in future generations get the waterfront they want and deserve?

To help address these issues, Barr publicly launched a special initiative in May 2016 to help realize the full potential of the Boston waterfront. Today, a group of partners—with input from Boston residents about the waterfront they want—are working toward a waterfront that is:

Welcoming

Inviting and affordable for everyone, particularly for people and communities often excluded.

Fun

Offering a range of exciting activities and interesting places designed for people’s enjoyment and comfort.

Productive

Providing good jobs, housing, and other economic opportunities and benefits.

Resilient

Protecting Boston’s Harbor-adjacent and inland neighborhoods from impacts of climate change like storm surges and flooding.

Boston’s waterfront is intricately linked with the city’s identity, economy, and current growth. But how many people in Boston feel connected to that waterfront, or even welcome?

Original

Stoss Landscape Urbanism via Mystic River Watershed Association

Boston Waterfront Initiative Goals

A set of near- and long-term goals guide our efforts to achieve a Boston waterfront for all.

Learn more about Boston Waterfront Initiative Goals

Meet Our Partners

Boston Waterfront Partners

boston waterfront partners logo

Boston Waterfront Partners is a network of residents, advocates, and organizations working together to make the city’s waterfront open, inviting, and vibrant for all.

Learn more about Boston Waterfront Partners

Grantmaking

As of March 22, 2018, Barr has awarded 24 grants totaling $11,415,000 through this special initiative.

To see all recent Special Initiatives grantmaking, visit our grants database.

GreenRoots

Boston Waterfront Initiative Grantmaking Process and Inquiries

Grants awarded by the Barr Foundation originate in different ways. The majority are initiated by our staff or through a request for proposals (RFP) process.

We welcome inquiries from those who feel their work may align with Barr’s Boston Waterfront Initiative goals and who wish to introduce themselves to us. The best approach is to email Trevor Pollack, program officer and manager of special projects, with a brief description (we suggest 300–400 words) of your organization and the funding opportunity you would like us to consider. Given the high volume of inquiries we receive and limited staffing for special initiatives, it may take a couple weeks to hear back.

Read more about our grantmaking process

Recent Boston Waterfront Initiative News on our Blog