Waterfront is one of Boston’s most alluring assets

Making sure everyone feels welcome there is key

WE HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY to set a bold vision for our waterfront.  A vision that enhances our status as an iconic coastal city that attracts tourists and meetings from across the world.  At the same time, we have an opportunity to do this in an inclusive and sustainable manner. Decades ago, Boston invested billions of dollars to clean up Boston Harbor and the city’s surrounding waterways.  This effort, coupled with the central artery project, made the North End and downtown waterfront more accessible to the rest of the city.  It is time to once again think big and go bold.

The Coalition for a Resilient and Inclusive Waterfront, a collaborative forum of which the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau  is a member, is leading efforts to create a more vibrant Boston waterfront.  The coalition is a diverse group of 50 organizations from across the city working to advance a vigorous vision for the future of the city’s waterfront that prioritizes resilience, inclusivity, access, and economic vitality. Together, our coalition is striving to work with Mayor Michelle Wu and Boston’s new leaders to bring together public and private sector partners, as well as community advocates and ambassadors, to cultivate a collective vision for transformative change.  

The coalition recently conducted a poll of Boston voters that revealed some important findings. When respondents were asked to list the greatest benefits of the waterfront, 67 percent listed “providing economic opportunities for local businesses and residents” as significant for them. Black and Latino voters ranked these priorities even higher – 73 percent for Black voters and 68 percent for Latino voters. 

There are many economic opportunities tied to our waterfront, including an array of natural assets and tourist attractions that help drive the visitor economy.  The visitors bureau promotes and markets Boston as a compelling, accessible, and inclusive destination. We sell Boston on the global stage as a city that offers a variety of experiences, cultural attractions, dining, and more. Central to that pitch, now more than ever, is the promotion of outdoor experiences and recreation, and Boston’s waterfront teems with these activities.

Water connects all 23 Boston neighborhoods in a meaningful way. Our famous waterways offer miles and miles of natural beauty and exploration. Efforts to maintain clean and safe water affect all neighborhoods downstream, which is why Boston was internationally acclaimed for investing billions of dollars in a historic cleanup decades ago. Today we live with the positive results of those investments.  Now we can do more.

The vision of former mayor Thomas Menino and former governor Deval Patrick, along with countless other civic and business leaders, led to the development of the Seaport District.  This emergent neighborhood has generated countless construction jobs and permanent jobs, and a substantial expansion of Boston’s economy as well as our standing in cutting-edge industries that put Boston at the vanguard of economic growth and innovation. Looking forward, a significant question for Boston’s new mayor is how to increase accessibility and connectivity for all residents and visitors to this expanding waterfront neighborhood and all it has to offer. Access, inclusion, and sustainability are critical, and there are numerous opportunities to expand access to public spaces in neighborhoods in every corner of the city that directly abut a waterway.

In that same poll conducted by the coalition, there was a significant racial divide when voters were asked how easy it was to access the city’s waterfront — 45 percent of white voters indicating it is “very easy” for them compared to 34 percent of Black voters, 30 percent of Latino voters and 35 percent of Asian voters. This disparity has several layers, including a history of waterfront neighborhoods being seen as unwelcoming to visitors and residents of color in Boston.

Efforts by Mayor Wu and city leaders to lessen these disparities and create new opportunities for connectivity for all with the waterfront and restorative outdoor spaces will be paramount.  For the visitors bureau, this undertaking is critical because the waterfront is one of Boston’s most alluring assets in drawing visitors to Boston; we must ensure that access, equity, and sustainability are the foundation of how we promote it in our marketing initiatives.  

Meet the Author

Hilina D Ajakaiye

Executive vice president, Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau
Boston is on the precipice of even greater and equitable growth and improvement in the coming years. We have proven that we can come together to do big things on the waterfront. Boston’s leaders can bring together public and private sector partners, as well as advocates and community leaders, to think big, act boldly, and drive real change.

Hilina D. Ajakaiye is the executive vice president of the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau.