THE FIVE CANDIDATES for mayor of Boston all have a problem with the city’s shiniest bauble – the Seaport District.
At an in-person forum on development sponsored by the Responsible Development Coalition at the training center of the North Atlantic State Regional Council of Carpenters in Dorchester, the five candidates were asked how they felt about the look and feel of the Seaport.
Candidates are typically loathe to criticize a neighborhood full of potential voters, particularly in front of a union whose members probably helped build a large chunk of the community. But the candidates didn’t hold back. Their reactions varied, ranging from outright horror to more measured disappointment about the Seaport’s lack of diversity.
Acting Mayor Kim Janey, who answered the question first, called the Seaport a missed opportunity. “For folks who can afford the Seaport, I’m sure it looks great. But the reality is a lot of folks were left out of that. We should never do development in a way that we are creating whole neighborhoods and not making sure that there’s housing for everyone at different levels,” she said.
“The hope and the goal is that we never repeat the Seaport,” she said.
John Barros, the former chief of economic development under former mayor Marty Walsh, said many of the buildings in the Seaport were already going up when Walsh came into office in 2014. He said Walsh pushed developers to come up with more exciting designs and he said there has been some improvement.
Barros said his biggest concern with the Seaport is the lack of diversity in terms of jobs and businesses. He said the Walsh administration tried to attract more diverse businesses to the area, pushed for cultural attractions, and invited groups that represent Black and Brown people into the neighborhood. While Barros said some progress has been made, he said all of these efforts should have been done when the neighborhood was being designed and not after the fact.
City Councilor Annissa Essaibi-George said every neighborhood in the city should be a special place that reflects the people who live there. “Unfortunately, the Seaport is, in many ways, Anywhere USA,” she said.
She also voiced concerns about the lack of diversity. “We are still missing opportunities to make sure that families have access to housing in the Seaport, that Black and Brown people have access to housing in the Seaport,” she said.
City Councilor Michelle Wu was the most critical. “To me the Seaport looks like a playground for the rich. It is the end result of a system that is broken…Not a single black homeowner got one of the mortgages of the buildings that were created.”
Wu said transportation was not incorporated into the design of the Seaport, so a couple years ago developers were talking about building a $100 million gondola system to help people sidestep the growing congestion in the neighborhood.
Wu also said the Seaport is a brewing environmental disaster. “The Seaport is called out as the one example around the country where we built the greatest amount of new square footage in the greatest risk,” she said. “The Seaport is not going to be around just a few decades from now. It is flooding every other month or so.”
When the neighborhood becomes uninhabitable, , Wu said, the people fleeing the Seaport will likely displace people in other parts of the city – all because no one in city government thought ahead. “We need to plan ahead in our city,” she said.
City Councilor Andrea Campbell said she agreed with everything Wu said. She lamented the fact that there is only one Black business in the Seaport – a barber shop – and that all the effort that went into building the Seaport is not taking place in other parts of the city.
“If we in the city of Boston can create a whole new neighborhood like the Seaport, why can’t we do the same on the Blue Hill Avenue corridor? Why can’t we do the same on Washington Street, Codman Square?”