Long Term Vision Plan: East Boston Workshop Tackles Connectivity along the Waterfront, Mobility, Flood Protection and Climate Resiliency

Mayor Martin Walsh listens to residents at last week’s BPDA Plan:East Boston workshop. Last week’s workshop focused on open space.

After several successful workshops discussing a wide array of topics designed to help create a long term vision for the neighborhood, the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) hosted another PLAN: East Boston meeting at the Ashley Street YMCA last Tuesday  to discuss open space, connectivity along the waterfront, as well as flood protection and climate resiliency.

“Boston is one of the only major cities on the Eastern Seaboard where residents on average are only a 10 min walk to a park or open space,” said the BPDA’s Jason Ruggiero. “This is something we should all be proud of, but we are here tonight to expand on that and find ways we can improve open space and access. We want to know from you, the residents, on how you access your open space, what are some of your open space needs and ideas on how we can improve current and future open space to address issues like connectivity, mobility and resiliency.

Mayor Martin Walsh stopped by workshop last Tuesday in Eastie because using and improving open space to combat climate change has been something that has piqued Walsh’s interest.

Over the summer Walsh released the ‘Resilient Boston Harbor’ plan. The plan uses the City’s Climate Ready Boston 2070 flood maps and coastal resilience neighborhood studies to focus on Boston’s most vulnerable flood pathways.

The strategies laid out in the plan for Eastie and other neighborhoods along the harbor include elevated landscapes, enhanced waterfront parks, flood resilient buildings, and revitalized and increased connections and access to the waterfront.

Based on early recommendations from the Climate Ready Eastie plan a deployable floodwall system has already been installed across the East Boston Greenway to prevent flooding.

Building upon this first step, Walsh announced the city plans to redesign Constitution Beach to combine flood protection measures with expanded access and recreation.

The city will also enhance Wood Island and Belle Isle to prevent the loss of the last remaining tidal salt marsh in Boston, while buffering the shoreline from increased waves and storm surges during storms.

Creating raised natural berms that act as additional public open along the waterfront, as well as restoring salt marshes provide not only new natural resources, but also buffer the shore from waves and storm surges.

Walsh will also direct city agencies to work with new development projects, including Suffolk Downs, to integrate resiliency measures, increased open space, and community connections.

“This process is unique because I’m not planning, Jason (Ruggiero) is not planning…you are planning,” said Walsh at last week’s workshop. “This is not going to be a situation where at the end of the day you the community presents a plan and we are going to change it. It’s going to be created by you and will include what you want to see in your neighborhood. This is your plan. I just wanted to come by and thank the residents for being part of this.”

After working in smaller groups each group designated a spokesperson to share some ideas with the larger crowd.

The two main items that seemed to be discussed among each smaller group dealt with accessibility and connectivity.

Suggestions included finding ways to connect Eastie’s open space like the Greneway to other neighborhoods such as Revere and Winthrop. This would allow better access to regional open spaces for residents living in Eastie. While the Greenway connects one end of Eastie to the other via a continuous path, some suggested continuing that path to points north like Revere or Winthrop beaches would make walking or bicycling to these points easier and more safe.

Others suggested that the city should not only preserve waterfront access but enhance access as well. One resident commented that the water surrounding Eastie should be considered open space. While the water may not be ‘green’ space it could be considered ‘blue’ space and looked at as a large untapped recreational area.

Others suggested better connectivity around Eastie’s 15 miles of shoreline. One resident said that access to the water should be continuous from Eagle Hill to Central Square to Jeffries Point to Orient Heights. There are currently some missing links in Eastie’s plan to have one continuous Harborwalk. Areas like Liberty Plaza and some of the industrial areas along Border Street are within the Designated Port Area and would need to be zoned out of the DPA in order to connect the Harborwalk all the way around the neighborhood.

Other suggestions included finding new and creative ways to use vacant lots and other spaces like Eastie Farms did on Sumner Street, as well as more programming at current parks to draw more people and enhance the overall experience within the neighborhood’s open spaces.

Last summer Walsh announced Eastie was chosen as one of five neighborhoods that will be part of the BPDA’s planning initiative as part of an Imagine Boston 2030 effort to ‘preserve, enhance and grow’ the neighborhood.

The city plans to work closely with Eastie community groups, community leaders and other stakeholders to ensure decisions made by the city are following the guiding principles of “preserves wisely, enhances equitably, and grows inclusively.” 

As part of the initiative in Eastie, comprehensive planning will include a focus on balancing contextually-sensitive development alongside preservation. There will also be a focus on supporting existing residents and businesses through increased access to opportunity, affordability strategies, and anti-displacement policies.

One of the highlights in Eastie will be improving the public realm and access to open space and neighborhood-serving amenities, addressing mobility challenges, and supporting neighborhood resiliency and preparing for climate change.  The city will work with the community in Eastie’s half dozen enclaves with a focus on the the neighborhoods here that are facing increased development pressures. Working with the community, city officials will determine a shared vision for the future of the neighborhood. Community discussion will focus on preservation of the existing residential fabric, enhancement of the vitality of existing residential communities and businesses, anti-displacement strategies for residents and businesses

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