While the explosion of development and commerce in the Seaport District is exciting, it is undeniable that communities of color are not part of the current boom. The neighborhood was a blank slate 15 years ago, when it was dubbed the Innovation District, but long-term planning fell short in many areas, including diversity, transportation, and community access. These systemic failures of inclusiveness need to be rectified.
Creating access and opportunity for businesses led by people of color to partner on the waterfront is essential. The team behind the new $500 million Omni Hotel includes landmark partnerships with developers and contractors led by people of color and women. Similar partnerships in future projects are crucial if we are to improve diversity at the leadership level in the Seaport, as well as help businesses and investment firms that are led by people of color grow.
Transportation access is another major issue, and we need to find ways to ensure that people from all over our city have fair access to jobs in the Seaport. A Bus Rapid Transit pilot program running from Dudley Street to the Seaport provides direct access to employment opportunities for residents living in the city’s center. Meanwhile, rail access via the defunct Track 61 is being studied and could be a key public transportation service that would help close the employment gap. Establishing rail service to the Seaport would provide direct access for residents from Dorchester, Mattapan, and Hyde Park — neighborhoods that have historically faced economic and transportation barriers — to a diverse array of jobs and opportunities in the growing waterfront.
Finding ways to work with developers to make the neighborhood more affordable to live in is another key issue to explore. Since 2011, developers on the South Boston waterfront have been able to opt out of the city’s Inclusionary Development Policy by making $12 million in contributions to affordable housing. Another $19 million has been generated through linkage funds generated by commercial properties. To date, none of these funds have been leveraged to build affordable housing on the waterfront. Most of the funds went to build affordable housing in lower-cost
areas of the city. Going forward, it’s critical to build as many IDP units in the waterfront as possible, while using the subsidies generated by market-rate development to build affordable housing on land owned by public entities in the neighborhood, such as Massport. We need to do better to make living here more affordable.
One other area of concern is the lack of access for the public. A proposed library in the Seaport would help change that by creating a 21st-century digital facility with resources that would be free and permanently open to all — a true community space to enrich modern civic life. Proposed legislation requiring park space in the Seaport to be publicly owned and protected in perpetuity would also be a win for inclusiveness.
The waterfront has a proud history of being a gateway to Boston that was built by hard-working blue-collar Bostonians committed to making the city a great place for all. There is a lot of work to be done, but if we focus on inclusion, meaningful partnerships, and prioritizing affordable housing in the neighborhood, we can fulfill that commitment.
Because this is everybody’s waterfront.
Nick Collins is a state representative for the Fourth Suffolk District. Linda Dorcena Forry a state senator for the First Suffolk District.