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Philanthropy

On the waterfront, the Barr Foundation jumps in

Haphazard development along Boston Harbor has drawn widespread criticism — and, from the powerful foundation, funding to mitigate its effects.

BOSTON, MA - 6/05/2015: Lewis Wharf - parking lot that will turn into park, and end of wharf, incliding out into the water--A prominent waterfront property in the North End that hosts the Boston Sailing Club would be redeveloped with a luxury hotel, and the large surface parking lots would be pushed underground to create a public park that would extend to the water's edge. The project would also build a new marina and facility for the sailing club (David L Ryan/Globe Staff Photo) SECTION: BUSINESS TOPIC 06LewisWharf(1 26Barr
David L Ryan, Globe Staff/file
To date, the Barr Foundation has given out nearly $6 million in grants to support planning, open space, and advocacy along the entire downtown waterfront.

For years, the powerful Barr Foundation has been known for its influence in education, the arts, and climate change. Last year, the nonprofit — created by Continental Cablevision cofounder Amos Hostetter Jr. and his wife, Barbara — added one more cause: the Boston waterfront.

It was hard to ignore. A blog post from foundation president Jim Canales did not mince words when explaining why the group was getting involved.

“Boston is well recognized for its historic waterfront and harbor; yet, this public treasure is in jeopardy,” he wrote last May. “In the absence of a long-term, comprehensive vision — and robust, well-resourced entities that protect and steward it — Boston’s waterfront has been at the mercy of rapid, and often uncoordinated, parcel-by-parcel development.”

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One just has to look at the Seaport District and its uninspiring buildings to realize why the foundation would want to jump in. To date, it has given out nearly $6 million in grants to groups such as the Trustees of Reservations, Boston Harbor Now, the city of Boston, and the Conservation Law Foundation to support planning, open space, and advocacy along the entire downtown waterfront.

The foundation has swiftly created a new order on the waterfront. Instead of developers calling the shots, activists have found a new ally that is allowing them to be more vocal on controversial projects.

Shirley Leung is a Globe columnist. Send comments to magazine@globe.com. Follow us on Twitter @BostonGlobeMag.