Changes are blowing in around Boston Harbor. To get a sense
of the shift, stand on Fan Pier in the South Seaport, facing the water.
To the left, under a dubious banner reading “Fan Pier, It’s Here,”
is a lonely, chain-linked parking lot littered with Dunkin’ Donuts
coffee cups. To the right is the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA),
a new architectural landmark of polished metal and glass. That’s
when it will hit you: Boston is waking up to its waterfront.
Freshly minted museums, stylish hotels and restaurants, emerging
greenways and bike paths, even a national park—it’s all part of the
dynamic scene unfolding around Boston Harbor. Stroll along portions
of the 47-mile-long Harbor Walk and the hum of hammers and buzzing saws resonates off the water. It’s enough to make you wonder if the
harbor has undergone this big a revolution since the Boston Tea Party.
It seems obvious that Boston’s waterfront—the foundation on
which the city was built—should be a thriving cultural hub, but not long
ago the south harbor was mostly warehouses and parking lots and the
central waterfront was cut off from the city by a congested traffic artery.
The harbor itself was in crisis in the 1980s, one of the filthiest in
the nation, but after a $4 billion, 20-year cleanup initiative, Boston
Harbor is cleaner than it has been in decades. Now, with the winding
down of the Central Artery/Tunnel Project (better known as “The
Big Dig”), removing an elevated highway dividing the waterfront
from downtown, it’s as though Boston has unlocked the door to this
cleaner, safer harbor.
MUSEUMS WITH A VIEW
Get acquainted with the harbor by heading to the South Seaport,
an industrial neighborhood separated from Boston’s financial district
by Fort Point Channel and reconnected through a network of bridges.
It’s home to warehouses and wide thoroughfares like Old Northern
Avenue and Seaport Avenue (fair warning: parking spaces outnumber
pedestrians here). Nonetheless, the seaport is targeted for development, and it’s already the place to go to find many of the city’s newest
attractions: the ICA, a sparkling convention center, a $204 million
Westin Waterfront hotel and a new test kitchen restaurant, called LTK
(Legal Test Kitchen), from the Legal Seafoods empire.
The Children’s Museum and the Boston Tea Party Ship &
Museum are also here—and both are getting makeovers. The
$47 million Children’s Museum renovation, featuring a three-story
addition and 30-foot-high climbing structure for kids, is the largest
expansion for the museum since it moved to the waterfront in 1979.
The Tea Party Ship & Museum, floating on Fort Point Channel,
is getting two new replica tall ships—the Dartmouth and the
Eleanor—to join the Brig Beaver, though it will remain closed
until the project wraps up next year.
However, the ICA has been hoarding the buzz since it opened in
December. This isn’t surprising, given that it’s the first art museum
to open in Boston in more than 100 years. The ICA’s cantilevered
design juts out toward the harbor’s edge so that from the inside
it feels as though you are standing over the water, taking in the