Skip to Content

On "Port" (Spring 2018)

Projecting the future needs for Boston’s Designated Port Areas (DPAs) is no easy task. Forty years ago, when the DPAs were first created, a key question focused on whether commercial shipping would rebound and, if so, in what form. Today, we’re seeing a healthy increase in container traffic and cruise ships, along with continued imports of petroleum, jet fuel, and automobiles. What to expect, looking forward?

One trend to ponder is the future of petroleum imports. The City of Boston has pledged to be carbon-free by 2050; the Commonwealth has committed to an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions by the same date. Meeting those commitments will require a massive shift to renewable energy and a dramatic reduction in the use of fossil fuels for transportation and home heating. That, in turn, could significantly reduce the need for importing oil and natural gas to the tank farms and storage facilities located in the inner harbor DPAs. What is the future for road-salt imports, in a climate-changed world with shorter and warmer winters?

One implication is that we may not need all four of Boston’s DPAs, although the carbon benefits of shipping freight via ship or barge instead of trucks might argue otherwise. Thanks to the Climate Ready Boston initiative, we know that a considerable amount of waterfront land in places like East Boston will be needed to create resilience buffers against flooding caused by sea-level rise. Should the DPA designation in those areas be reconsidered?

Bud Ris
Senior adviser
Boston Green Ribbon Commission

As President Kennedy said in 1962 to sailors from Australia, we are not so much “separated by an ocean, but—particularly those of us who regard the ocean as a friend—bound by an ocean.” When the ocean connects us to the rest of the world, protecting access to that edge is critically important public policy. Once that connection is severed, once condos grow up along the waterfront and the ocean is only a backdrop for photographs, that change is irreversible and that access point is lost.

As the mayor of New Bedford 30 years ago, I could describe the city in one word: seaport. We send our people to sea. We did that in whaleships; we do that today in fishing vessels. It defines us, but it doesn’t limit us. Today, there is short sea shipping. Ferry boats to the islands. About 2,000 yachts. Research boats for the developing offshore wind industry. Barge traffic. Recreational fishermen. Whale-boat rowing clubs and eight-oared crews. All manner of vessels use the water’s edge to seek opportunity—for profit, for knowledge, for recreation, for fulfillment. Just to be at sea.

This is what a port is about. Whether it is the Port of Boston, New Bedford, or all the other ports, may their connections remain strong.

John Bullard
Westport Point, Massachusetts

In “Time’s sentry,” Terri Evans provides an eloquent tribute to the 1847 Custom House and the 1915 Custom House Tower that flows fluidly between the evolving history of the architecture, the building’s use, and the character of the city around it. It was a beautiful reminder of how much we can learn about Boston with a view from the Custom House. But what can we learn from a view of the Custom House?

This icon of maritime history on the city skyline is in danger of disappear-ing from view. The proposed designs of Dock Square Garage north of Quincy Market have sloped the highest floors inward to maximize views of the tower from the Rose Kennedy Greenway as one walks south. Meanwhile, the Municipal Harbor Plan would allow the redevelopment of the Harbor Garage to block the view of the clock tower that has served as a defining feature welcoming anyone arriving by sea—whether by regional ferry, international cruise ship, or local sailboat.

Katherine F. Abbott
President and CEO, Boston Harbor Now

I very much enjoyed revisiting Dry Dock No. 4 in the “Port” issue. In 1988, I selected this site for my entry into the Boston Visions competition. My rationale at the time was immediate and intentional: the dry dock was, without question, the most majestic component of the built environment I encountered upon arriving in Boston in 1984. Not only grand in scale, its construction was awe-inspiring, the closest thing I had seen to Piranesi’s depiction of the foundations of Hadrian’s Mausoleum. Accordingly, any architecture proposed for this space would be provisional while the massive granite blocks of the structure would persist.

I appreciated the dry dock’s low profile in every sense of the term. It was built to play a supporting role and even disappear completely when the waters of the Atlantic were allowed to enter. It would never have the grace of the ships it would harbor. It wasn’t built for admiration or beauty. Relative to my then–recently completed graduate studies, which tilted toward the ephemeral, Dry Dock No. 4 was a testament to the power of fact and physics.

At the time of the Boston Visions competition, the Institute of Contemporary Art was looking for a new home, something I discussed with then-director David Ross. The proposition was simple: Turn the museum inside out and imagine it as something of an aircraft carrier with objects, installations, and events landing on the deck of Dry Dock No. 4. To heighten the curatorial and experiential drama, the Atlantic Ocean would be lapping at the gallery doors with only brute force preventing the potential inundation of the entire spectacle. In short, the stark drawing I offered 30 years ago using the dry dock as a backdrop was intended as an essay on permanence and value, and how both are always registered in the built environment.

Wellington (Duke) Reiter FAIA
Senior adviser to the President
Arizona State University

After World War II, docks, cranes, rail lines, warehouses, and industrial artifacts permeated Boston Harbor, evincing its rich history as a major port. Today, it boasts housing, offices, and multiuse amenities. This transformation is commendable, but Boston may be losing its distinctive qualities of place. How can the harbor remain linked to its maritime heritage while creating a futureoriented place?

Visiting Hamburg recently, I saw how smart design achieves this goal. Accompanying throngs of people walking along cobblestoned St. Pauli Hafenstrasse, I passed brick warehouses renovated into housing and offices. Newer buildings fill the gaps left from Allied bombings. Giant rolling steel doors protect them from storm surges.

Eventually I spotted Herzog & de Meuron’s Elbphilharmonie concert hall, the cynosure of HafenCity. This remarkable port district is a network of quays, docks, and public spaces integrated with a mix of uses. Industrial relics from Old Hamburg remain at each street corner, dock, and bridge. Yet Hamburg remains an active port. Ships navigate the Elbe, dry docks line its southern side, and cranes punctuate the skyline.

Hamburg demonstrates how historic ports can be transformed over time. It builds on its history while generating new design interventions resilient to rising tides.

Paul Lukez FAIA
Principal, Paul Lukez Architecture
Somerville, Massachusetts

Perhaps the greatest secret to the Port of Boston’s success is its diverse supporters over the decades, ranging from Governor Paul Cellucci, who established the Seaport Advisory Council that funded numerous Boston projects, to Congressman Mike Capuano, who secured $125 million for the Chelsea Street Bridge to ensure safe passage of oil tankers. That spirit of bipartisan cooperation has in no small part helped to make Boston what it is today.

Viven Li Hon. BSA

Through thoughtful articles and creative graphics, the “Port” issue gave readers a renewed appreciation for Boston’s working waterfront and insight into day-to-day activities. Many readers may have never set foot on a marine terminal, but if they enjoy a glass of Italian wine, relax on their living room couch, or benefit from road salt on winter roads, they now know the value of the Port of Boston. We will keep working to enhance that value to consumers, protect and grow the 7,000 blue-collar jobs in the working port, and support the 1,600 businesses across Massachusetts and the region that use our waterfront to access global markets.

Lisa Wieland 
Port director, Massachusetts Port Authority