Creating a Boston Waterfront for All


The Boston Waterfront 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: Billions of dollars in new waterfront development has already been built and more is being planned 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, for 150 years Massachusetts state law Chapter 91, has aimed to protect and promote 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 launched a special initiative in May 2016 to help realize the full potential of the Boston waterfront. Today, a group of partners and residents are working toward a waterfront that is:


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


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


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


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?

Stoss Landscape Urbanism via Mystic River Watershed Association

Boston Waterfront Initiative Goals

An overarching goal and set of mid-term objectives 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


Barr has awarded over $26 million through this special initiative.

To see all recent Boston Waterfront Initiative grantmaking, visit our grants database.


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 Jill Valdés Horwood, Director, Boston Waterfront Initiative 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