The Boston waterfront today is an essential part of the city's past, present, and future. Today, the Innovation District/Seaport District grabs headlines, but the entire edge of the Boston Harbor offers delight and opportunity.
In the 1970s, Sasaki played a key role in defining the Boston community's relationship to the waterfront. Sasaki laid out a master plan underpinned by three concepts:
1.) The public realm is key to economic development
2.) Landscape architects should play a leading role in shaping urban realm
3.) Integrated, collaborative design will yield the best results
These approaches—innovative decades ago—remain today relevant, if not critical.
[Read more about Sasaki's work on the Boston Waterfront here]
The Economic Value of Public Realm Investment
The economic return on public realm investment varies place to place, but the numbers are significant in many instances. The Metropolitan Planning Council reports that Chicago's $500 million investment in Millennium Park "is projected to generate $2.6 billion in visitor spending and add $1.4 billion in value to the adjacent real estate by 2014, ten years after the park's completion." We've also tracked the economic return on our projects over time. In most instances—Indianapolis, Charleston, and Cincinnati, for example—there are four to five dollars of private investment for every public dollar spent on open space and public realm.
Our work on the Boston waterfront, though not quantified in dollars, surely would paint a similarly dramatic picture. Public realm improvements, such as Long Wharf and Boston Waterfront Park, were a critical first step in making the waterfront safe, accessible, and attractive to redevelopment—transforming derelict sheds into millions of square feet of new mid-to-high rise development.
The Role of Landscape Architecture in Urban Design
"As cities grapple with climate change and the legacy of suburban sprawl, landscape architects need to assert themselves not only as designers of parks and gardens, but as designers of all public infrastructure." —Ben Wellington, Student ASLA, The Dirt
Landscape architecture is a critical, but often missing, element of urban design. Sasaki principal emeritus and renowned landscape architect Stu Dawson helped usher in the concept of landscape urbanism, in which landscape architecture addresses outdoors spaces in the context of the greater urban environment. Stu was the lead designer on the Boston Waterfront work nearly forty years ago, and his approach is why the plan—and concepts embodied therein—remain relevant today. Stu is the one who laid a piece of green yarn—now iconic in Sasaki history—on the BRA's city model to illustrate where the public realm on the waterfront should be: everywhere.
Green yarn defines open space everywhere
The Importance of Integrated, Collaborative Design
Integrated design and holistic collaboration is critical today, especially in the face of climate change and other sustainability issues that require multifaceted solutions.
Recently, principal emeritus Maurice (Mo) Freedman presented a lecture at Sasaki about the firm's work and history on the Boston Waterfront. Mo, an engineer, worked closely with Stu Dawson—a collaborative approach that enabled visionary design, and speaks volumes to the legacy of integrated design at Sasaki. Mo recounted multiple instances in which the integration of design and engineering were critical to Boston Waterfront Park being successfully brought to fruition.
For example, the project's pergola, engineered by Neil Mitchell, follows the alignment of the old Atlantic Avenue utility corridor and is economical and durable. The pergola is also an exemplar of elegant, modular construction, made of recurring pieces of identical 2x4 wood members and meal y-plates. The seawall is another engineering and design feat. Preserved in the process, the structure is reinforced and clad to make it both stable and attractive.
Boston Waterfront Park
Past, Present, and Future
Mo concluded his lecture by showing the new North Bank Pedestrian Bridge, which connects Paul Revere Park in Charlestown to North Point Park in Cambridge, providing a much-need pedestrian link along the water.
[Read more about connectivity along Boston waterfront and The Boston Harbor Association here.]
It will be fascinating to see the evolution along the waterfront in Boston, especially if we continue to embrace the importance of collaboration, the role of landscape architects, and the power of the public realm to have a significant economic impact on our city.
Special thanks to Mo Freedman for his lecture and inspiring insights.