Boston Harbor for All Summit: A panel discussion on inclusion
All Boston residents live within five minutes of a public space; however, not all public spaces are created equal, and not all parks feel welcoming to all. This is especially true for Boston’s waterfront. A recent survey showed that 65% of white people said they visited the Boston waterfront more than three times in the past year; a stark comparison to the majority of people of color who had visited the waterfront less than three times.
In a discussion moderated by Adrian Walker of the Boston Globe at the Boston Harbor for All Summit, hosted by Boston Harbor Now, panelists discussed how to make waterfront spaces and public parks, especially in Boston, more inclusive for all. Stephen Gray of Grayscale Collaborative opened up the discussion by providing a local perspective on the state of Boston and its public spaces, followed by Sara Zewde of Studio Zewde, Dr. KangJae “Jerry” Lee, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Parks at North Carolina State University, and Najah Casimir, the Communications Manager for the City of Cambridge Traffic, Parking, and Transportation, who each provided their unique expertise on the inclusivity of public spaces.
Dr. Jerry Lee and Stephen Gray each provided details on the barriers to entry for the Black community and people of color, including the health and safety of these spaces. They described the variations in quality, accessibility, and safety of open spaces as a public health crisis disproportionately impacting communities of color.
Najah Casimir then highlighted the ways in which the inclusivity of public spaces goes beyond race. Planning of public spaces often overlooks the requirements of ADA such as accessible pathways and sidewalks, excluding people with disabilities from enjoying public spaces. And despite the many languages spoken and read in the city of Boston, most public park signage is in English, alienating large populations of people from shared spaces. Public spaces today lack an acknowledgement of all bodies, ages, races, and abilities, providing an opportunity to rethink how these spaces can be enjoyed by all.
Sara Zewde highlighted a project in Philadelphia that demonstrates how to create an inclusive waterfront park: Graffiti Pier. Graffiti Pier was a privately-owned, abandoned waterfront space that transformed into a haven for local graffiti artists. As more people flocked to the area, plans to make it an “official” public space became challenging, with fears that changing the park too much would deter frequent visitors. Collaborating with the community was key to the success of the space; listening to those who used the space and understanding their vision helped planners adapt the space for the broader public while continuing to ensure it remained inclusive to longtime visitors.
The panelists all agreed that when planning for future urban open spaces, we have an opportunity to learn from local communities, collaborate on new solutions, and recognize that urban planning for public spaces is never a one size fits all process. Despite their unique perspectives, all four speakers came back to the idea that the current moment we’re in calls for intentionally inclusive urban planning and rethinking what it means to be an accessible space — that is how we will create successful cities.