THE INNOVATION DISTRICT HITS ITS STRIDE
AS I ASCEND MY FRONT STEPS FOR MY EARLY MORNING RUN, I LOCK EYES WITH THE OLD-TIMER PERCHED ON HIS FOLDING CHAIR, SURVEILLING THE NEIGHBORHOOD AS HE DOES EACH MORNING. ONE HEAD NOD EACH AND I’M OFF— EAST TOWARD THE WATERFRONT, OF COURSE. WHAT BETTER PLACE TO START YOUR DAY? THE PORT OF BOSTON WAS ONCE A THRIVING SHIPPING AREA THAT RECEIVED RAW MATERIALS LIKE LEATHER AND WOOL FOR LOCAL TEXTILE FACTORIES IN THE EARLY PART OF THE 20TH CENTURY. URBAN INFILL AND DEVELOPMENT HAVE TRANSFORMED MUCH OF THE WATERFRONT FROM A MUDDY EYESORE INTO AN ALLURING PLACE TO CALL HOME.
Eyebrows were raised when the Feds announced plans to build the John Joseph Moakley Courthouse on the edge of the Seaport in 1999. Complete with an 88-foot-tall glass wall overlooking a park and the harbor, the impressive structure became an instant monument of architectural triumph representing the transformation of a rundown dock into a place of vital civic importance. Until recently, the courthouse stuck out like a “kid in the 6th grade who has grown to 5-foot-10 and everyone else is 5-foot-1,” says federal judge Douglas Woodlock. “But now we’re in the foreground of a large development, and we’re satisfied that it is going in the direction we had hoped and that we played some part.”
The question remains— will the Seaport ever feel like a neighborhood? The die-hard North Ender in me can’t imagine a neighborhood without old-timers. It takes decades to assemble a cast of characters, and multiple generations with stories to tell. The “mayor” of a neighborhood organically rises to the occasion. Even the most talented Hollywood casting director could not mastermind the charm of a neighborhood from scratch. Urban developers and planners believe that if they build it, the residents will come. Inspiration will be pulled from existing Seaport culture and nearby neighborhoods. Slowly, but surely, like most great things, the Innovation District will have its own identity.
In keeping with the ethos of reconstructing an underutilized space, developers in other port cities across the world have focused on heritage and collective identity to reconnect the public to dilapidated waterfront space and re-establish the greatness of port city status. The first step to creating a community identity can be pulled from the new Seaport Our Lady of Good Voyage Chapel, which will embrace the history of generations who have worshipped in the church for half a century. “That community was really Catholic, the fishermen, so they needed a chapel near the water,” McPherson said.
“Our Lady of Good Voyage Chapel, newly constructed at a central location in the Seaport, will continue to serve as a place of prayer and comfort to a diverse community of professionals, families, and travelers. The new chapel design will embrace the history of generations of maritime workers and welcome all who will live, work in and visit the Seaport,” Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley said in a statement.
As amenities grow, the Seaport/Innovation District is developing its own familiar sounds, smells, and, of course, places to gather. Green spaces, a movie theater, a bowling alley, a high-end gym, and a grocery store are on the list of amenities residents are eager to see in the coming years. Seaport developers are listening. An artful blend of Boston’s heritage and modern innovation aim to turn the Seaport into the new “it” neighborhood. “Watermark Seaport breaks the typical city residential mold by combining modern lofts with contemporary urban apartments. We are proud to offer a combination of amenities that anyone from young professionals to empty-nesters will enjoy,” said Shawn Hurley, president and CEO for Skanska USA Commercial Development. Watermark sits on one of the most critical parcels of land in terms of connectivity to an established neighborhood. Hurley describes Watermark’s blend of loft and industrial space, taking cues from Fort Point on the west side and fading into modern innovation with a glass facade embracing the existing Fort Point neighborhood. “The entire median of Seaport Boulevard is being redone, significantly changing the dynamic and pedestrian experience.” Residents can easily weave from the waterfront, down Autumn Lane, and into the existing Fort Point neighborhood. Hurley agreed that ongoing transportation improvements are the game changers.
Watermark Seaport is living up to the Innovation District name. Home to an outpost of MIT’s Morphlab (funded by an IKEA and Steelcase) pilot program, which allows for infinitely re-configurable room layouts and furniture for extreme efficiency in urban living. Flexible layouts offer a space that can feel about three times bigger. The 346-unit development contains 44 innovation units in a 17-story tower on Seaport Boulevard, offering 408-square-foot micro units. Each unit is unique and clustered on a floor boasting a collaborative tech space open to all residents.
Watermark developers traveled internationally to gather design inspiration that would allow residents to enjoy the best innovation the world has to offer, and it shows. The commitment can be seen in a variety of luxury amenities, such as a 24-hour concierge, rooftop deck, grilling areas, underground parking, state-of-the-art fitness center, dog-washing spa, indoor bike storage, and an 18th floor sky deck humbly overlooking our great city.