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Mayoral Candidates on Waterfront Issues

Responses to Coalition's Candidate Questionnaire

Ahead of the July 29th Mayoral Forum, candidates were asked to submit written responses to a number of waterfront related questions compiled by our partner organizations. Their responses are published below.

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City Councilor At-Large Annissa Essaibi George

[Q1] Describe your vision for the future of Boston's waterfront, including the harbor and rivers

For many of us, the pandemic highlighted just how important being able to get outside is for mental and physical health. The waterfront is a place of peace, play, recreation, and relaxation, and it's a public good that everyone in Boston should be able to enjoy. However, between a lack of equitable economic opportunity and inadequate climate action, the spaces that make Boston so unique and vibrant have become less accessible for all of our residents. My vision for our waterfront is an inclusive, well-maintained space that we can enjoy today, but more importantly a space that future generations can enjoy for years to come.  Our waterfront is what sets Boston apart from other major cities, and we need to make significant investments to ensure that this is a space that is welcoming to all and one that is able to withstand the effects of climate change and sea level rise.

[Q2] Accessibility & Equity

Boston’s waterfront encompasses both the harbor and its rivers. What parts of the waterfront do you see as models for open and accessible space for all to utilize? As mayor, how would you  use those models to develop strategies to make it feel like a true waterfront for all and promote the waterfront to residents and visitors of all ages and races?

As we expand affordable housing options across the city, we have the opportunity to make significant investments in waterfront areas. The waterfront is a public good and should be accessible to all of Boston’s residents, regardless of income, and the City’s role in the development and zoning process can be leveraged to incentivize the inclusion of affordable units in waterfront construction areas. On the waterfront, the Friends of Christopher Columbus Park presents a model of open and accessible space. With direct access to public transit, a wide range of business, and recently renovated parks and open space, this park attracts residents and visitors and demonstrates the benefits of prioritizing equity in the design of our city’s parks. The waterfront is a public good and should be accessible to all of Boston’s residents, regardless of income. We must also invest in transportation to and from these areas to ensure that even those who don’t live nearby or those who have limited mobility are able to spend time by the water. The City can and should also invest in programming and events in our waterfront areas. As we continue to explore ways to get back together and celebrate as a city, the waterfront offers a beautiful and vibrant space for community gatherings and activities. As Mayor, I will work to simplify and streamline the event permitting process, which will make it easier for community organizations and nonprofits to host events in these areas.

[Q3] Climate Resiliency

Many of Boston’s neighborhoods are in need of a true district wide coastal resiliency plan to protect from the impacts of climate change and sea-level rise. How do you propose to bring together private landowners and public officials to protect the city from the impacts of climate change?

As Mayor, I will facilitate close coordination between City Hall, developers, property owners, community stakeholders, and residents to ensure that conversations around development, climate change and sea level rise do not happen in silos. These issues are interconnected and need to be addressed as such. The neighborhoods most impacted are the ones who should be driving the conversations, since they know both what is most needed and what is most sustainable. I will also work with developers and leverage the city’s zoning process to incentivize green, climate resilient development across the city. In order to be successful in preparing Boston for the realities of sea-level rise and climate change, we must make sure that people and businesses from every neighborhood have a seat at the table. I have always been a uniter and coalition builder, and that is something I will bring to the Mayor’s Office.

[Q4] Coordination with Federal, State, and Local Governments

With the potential access to a massive influx of federal dollars from the infrastructure package, Boston is in a unique position to reshape its waterfront by creating a climate resilient space that is open and inclusive to all. To do so across all of the harbor and the rivers will take collaboration with neighboring communities. What role would you play as a regional leader to prioritize coastal resilience, access to open space, and economic vibrancy?

As a major economic hub and coastal city, Boston has a responsibility to promote resilient, sustainable waterfront development. Our city is a national leader in so many areas, and this is one more way to show that Boston is a city of innovators and problem solvers. We must lead by example, and that will require working closely with all of Boston’s stakeholders to balance commerce, development, community, and climate resiliency. We need to make changes and investments in the City of Boston to ensure that we are being forward-thinking in our development and climate mitigation effects, but we can’t do this alone. I will work with the state government and other mayors in Massachusetts and beyond to identify best practices for combating climate change and preparing for continued sea level rise.

[Q5] Development

Regulations and plans for the waterfront are still catching up to the pressing need to ensure that private development creates district scale flood protection, welcoming public space, and other public benefits like affordable housing. How would you reshape waterfront development to achieve your vision? What would you change about the development process to ensure that it’s realized?

As Mayor I will create a Planning Board independent of the Boston Planning & Development Agency to ensure forward-thinking and inclusive development. Boston is rapidly growing, but we need to do a better job of ensuring that everyone is benefitting from this growth. I believe that the City must prioritize affordable housing in waterfront areas to ensure unit diversity in the type of housing built in the waterfront for all income levels. We must also be careful that we’re not creating housing without the necessary community infrastructure in the area, such as transportation and job centers. A Planning Office will be critical to ensuring a holistic and equitable approach to development across Boston, but especially in the areas that have grown as rapidly as our waterfront has. Ensuring transparency and community engagement is critical to any ongoing development. On the Council, I have led the charge to reform our meeting notification process so that residents are informed of meetings well in advance. The people who live in these neighborhoods know what they need when it comes to open space, flood protection, and other aspects of development, and we must give everyone an adequate opportunity to make their voices heard. In order to build a thriving and resilient Boston, we need robust community input.

[Q6] Transportation

Investments in transportation are needed to connect more residents to the waterfront. This includes, but is not limited to, public transit, pedestrian access, and ferry services. On which projects would you focus to improve affordable access to the waterfront and harbor islands?

Transportation is one of the biggest barriers to accessing the waterfront. The people who are currently taking advantage of our waterfront tend to skew younger, and that’s no surprise when we think about mobility and transportation issues for Boston’s older residents. Our waterfront is a public good and we need to make sure that disability or mobility issues aren’t a barrier to accessing it.

[Q7] Working Port

Over the past decade Boston’s working port has been gaining momentum with an increase in containerized cargo volumes, seafood processing production, cruise ship passenger visits, and other maritime-related industries. All of this growth  contributes to the economic prosperity of the Commonwealth and the New England region—66,000 jobs and $8.2 billion of economic activity come from the port. The statutorily mandated designated port areas, which were created to support water dependent industries and foster economic growth, are critical to the economic vitality of the port.  How would you support the working port and balance the purpose of designated port areas with public access?

It’s critical we keep and support our designated port areas because they contribute to our city’s economic vitality and preserve jobs and businesses that rely on access to the waterfront. I believe we can do this while, at the same time, maintaining public access to the waterfront in appropriate areas that do not house working ports. This is why it’s so important we prioritize public access to the waterfront in places it makes the most sense to. As Mayor, I’m committed to working with the businesses and community members to maintain that balance.

City Councilor At-Large Michelle Wu

[Q1] Describe your vision for the future of Boston's waterfront, including the harbor and rivers

As a coastal city, Boston is especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Boston's sea level could rise 9 inches above 2013 levels by the 2030s, resulting in a 10-fold increase in flood risk in some areas. The City must establish sustainable ways to live near rapidly rising and warming waters through harborfront conservation and renewable wind energy. I’m proud to have laid out the first municipal-level Green New Deal agenda in the country that includes specific policies to reimagine our relationship with the ocean and waterways through regeneration and climate justice. In short, these policies make up a Blue New Deal - for community-building, equitable access, clean energy development, sustainable food systems, carbon capture, and good jobs.

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[Q2] Accessibility & Equity

Boston’s waterfront encompasses both the harbor and its rivers. What parts of the waterfront do you see as models for open and accessible space for all to utilize? As mayor, how would you  use those models to develop strategies to make it feel like a true waterfront for all and promote the waterfront to residents and visitors of all ages and races?

Too many of the beautiful open spaces along Boston’s ocean and river waterfronts are challenging to access, tucked between private property without clear signage, or disconnected from communities across our neighborhoods. As we protect and expand our waterfront spaces, we must also act with urgency to create ease of access through holistic master planning and multilingual, multi-channel, community-rooted outreach to ensure that all communities feel a sense of pride and belonging on Boston’s waterfront. I love seeing that sense of community and joy at Piers Park in East Boston. With gorgeous views of the Boston skyline as the backdrop for a wide range of recreational uses and open space, this community gem is always full of the diversity of Boston and home to so many important events and gatherings. From the playground, to open air theater, to sailing on the water, it is a delightful mix of how all Bostonians can benefit from connection to the waterfront.

[Q3] Climate Resiliency

Many of Boston’s neighborhoods are in need of a true district wide coastal resiliency plan to protect from the impacts of climate change and sea-level rise. How do you propose to bring together private landowners and public officials to protect the city from the impacts of climate change?

As Mayor, I’ll break down silos across the private, public, and non-profit sectors and empower communities to drive forward a comprehensive vision of climate resiliency, green jobs, and healthy communities. From accelerating decarbonization, to implementing net zero building requirements and sustainable transportation access, to investing in green workforce development, we must act urgently to mitigate these threats and build resiliency. Green infrastructure improvements must be intertwined with community stabilization and closing the racial wealth gap so that all Boston residents benefit from green investments in their neighborhoods. To be sure, Boston has made important progress on implementation of its coastal resiliency plans. The catastrophic flooding events we have seen in urban areas around the world are a clear indication that we must act with greater urgency. One of the first actions I will take as mayor is to re-assess the existing neighborhood plans to specifically identify the locations which demand immediate action and investment and then work with city, state, and federal agencies to leverage the resources we need to get it done.

 

The City must integrate climate planning into all aspects of policy-making, and plan for the major infrastructure investments that are necessary to secure our climate future as a coastal city. I’ve laid out a comprehensive vision for a new, fully-resourced public planning department tasked with working collaboratively with neighborhoods to design our waterfront and communities for public access, climate resiliency, and destinations to fuel our tourism economy.  This work must also include the creation of equitable financing programs to make stormwater infrastructure and other resilient retrofits affordable to residents. At the neighborhood level, we must invest city dollars in green infrastructure such as bioswales in neighborhoods and investing in the urban tree canopy. Boston can lead the way as a proof point nationally for climate action as a catalyst for community health, vitality, and sustainable economic growth. But we know that over the coming years and decades, we’ll also need leadership from our state and federal partners. As Mayor, I’ll use all resources at my disposal to advocate, organize, and build coalitions to ensure that as climate resilience funding comes into Boston, we are empowering environmental justice communities to take the lead in designing climate mitigation and adaptation projects and financing structures that are rooted in equity and justice.

[Q4] Coordination with Federal, State, and Local Governments

With the potential access to a massive influx of federal dollars from the infrastructure package, Boston is in a unique position to reshape its waterfront by creating a climate resilient space that is open and inclusive to all. To do so across all of the harbor and the rivers will take collaboration with neighboring communities. What role would you play as a regional leader to prioritize coastal resilience, access to open space, and economic vibrancy?

Now is the time for bold, urgent leadership, and with federal funds poised to flow into Boston and our neighboring municipalities, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to accelerate climate action.  The City must use every tool it can to dramatically scale its climate-resilient infrastructure investments along the waterfront. I’m proud to have worked in regional coalitions to advance policy priorities from transit justice to housing affordability, and as Mayor, I’ll continue to strengthen our regional partnerships to deliver the change we need. I’m proud of my track record of working across municipal lines to transform the public conversation on what’s possible for public transportation, housing, and climate justice. We can do even more from the mayor’s office in coordinating and aligning on a regional vision for resiliency, access, and shared prosperity.

[Q5] Development

Regulations and plans for the waterfront are still catching up to the pressing need to ensure that private development creates district scale flood protection, welcoming public space, and other public benefits like affordable housing. How would you reshape waterfront development to achieve your vision? What would you change about the development process to ensure that it’s realized?

Boston’s downtown waterfront is a public resource that provides valued space for cultural, historic, and recreation activities–and large majorities of Boston residents prioritize waterfront accessibility and support open spaces and climate protection at the waterfront. As the Harbor faces pressures from rising sea levels and exclusive, private development, we need urgent action to enhance climate resilience, accessibility, and the long-term public interest. As Mayor, I’ll empower a new city planning department to create a plan for updating zoning in line with the U.S. Healthy Ports program with clear, consistent rules that mitigate the cumulative impact of harbor-area air pollution in underserved communities and prioritize climate resilience and equity, and I’ll reduce barriers to the waterfront to fight back against efforts to close off public access for private gain.

 

On the Boston City Council, I’ve been leading the charge to create an Urban Climate Corps that provides job training and skilled employment to corps members who work to improve the quality, community engagement, and climate resilience of public spaces. This includes the waterfront, including by establishing living shorelines which are protected coastal edges made of natural materials such as plants, sand, or rock. Living shorelines provide nature-based stability and climate resilience for water and shore ecosystems as well as shorefront infrastructure. I’m also proud of my work on the Council to leverage our AAA bond rating and use investment vehicles such as green and social bonds to accelerate the construction of climate resilience infrastructure.

[Q6] Transportation

Investments in transportation are needed to connect more residents to the waterfront. This includes, but is not limited to, public transit, pedestrian access, and ferry services. On which projects would you focus to improve affordable access to the waterfront and harbor islands?

Boston’s next Mayor will be responsible for guiding the shape of transportation infrastructure projects that will shape our entire region for generations. I’m committed to driving forward an Allston I-90 project that marks a shift from the old way of investing in highway infrastructure, to a new approach that prioritizes community connectivity and climate resiliency. I will continue to advocate for an all-at grade option to enhance access between Allston and the Charles River. The Trustees of Reservations and civic associations in East Boston have built incredible momentum towards actualizing the vision for Piers Park 3, a project to transform a disused and rotting pier near Logan Airport. As Mayor, I will use the convening power of the city to work with the MBTA and neighboring municipalities to create ferry transportation routes that increase affordable, convenient access to the recreational and leisure opportunities provided by this unique space.

[Q7] Working Port

Over the past decade Boston’s working port has been gaining momentum with an increase in containerized cargo volumes, seafood processing production, cruise ship passenger visits, and other maritime-related industries. All of this growth  contributes to the economic prosperity of the Commonwealth and the New England region—66,000 jobs and $8.2 billion of economic activity come from the port. The statutorily mandated designated port areas, which were created to support water dependent industries and foster economic growth, are critical to the economic vitality of the port.  How would you support the working port and balance the purpose of designated port areas with public access?

Boston’s history is intertwined with our water-based economy, and as we accelerate climate action, we must articulate a vision of the port that creates good, green union jobs and advances our shared goals of climate resilience and connected communities. The fishing industry is one of our greatest success stories, but with an evolving restaurant industry and broader sustainability challenges, we need urgent action to create a fishing sector that is economically and ecologically sound, including by investing in an emerging aquaculture sector and strengthening our seafood processing capacity. Local organizations are already working to elevate aquaculture in the region. The New England Aquarium has partnered with New England kelp businesses such as Atlantic Sea Farms in Maine to pursue research on linegrown kelp and its economic and environmental benefits. Additionally, the Aquarium’s The Conservation Alliance for Seafood Solutions aims to work with corporate partners to develop and implement sustainable seafood policies and garner consumer engagement. The City must take an active role in driving this collaboration across sectors to harness the potential of aquaculture to strengthen our food system and conserve our Harbor: 

 

As a coastal city, Boston is also well positioned to benefit from the emerging wind energy sector. Now is the time to act with urgency to invest in offshore wind power to accelerate Boston’s progress towards our citywide climate goals. By harnessing wind power from Boston’s waters, Boston will be able to grow our supply of clean energy, create good jobs for Bostonians, and reduce our carbon emissions. With the need for factory and manufacturing facilities to create the equipment and parts needed for wind turbines, this plan also has the potential to create good union jobs for Boston residents.

 

In these and other emerging maritime-based economic sectors, Boston should be leading the way to ensure that the future of our Inner Harbor designated port areas is one that advances climate resilience, racial equity, and economic inclusion. As Mayor, I’ll actively build connections among our residents and our educational and business communities to ensure the future of our port is based on a shared vision of a resilient, inclusive, and equitable city.

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