During the COVID-19 pandemic, the public health benefits of open green and blue spaces became a popular topic of discussion, and rightfully so. During a time of isolation and self-distancing, those open spaces offered mental and physical health benefits to the community as a whole.
Locally, as a coastal region, we turned to Boston Harbor, the waterfront, and the Harborwalk – open blue spaces – which offered many of those same public health benefits seen from green spaces.
But while the Harbor and its waterfront are a unique public asset for the entire region, historically not everyone has been able to take advantage of these special places. Neighborhoods like Dorchester, Roxbury, Chinatown, and East Boston have been underrepresented on the Harbor and even the waterfront, facing challenges such as the cost of ferry tickets, access to ferries, and even proximity to the waterfront. One of Boston Harbor Now’s goals has always been increasing access equitably, bridging the gaps separating community members from the Harbor by finding low- and no-cost ways to bring more people to the water.
Ten years ago, the Boston Harbor Now team worked with community partners to address this access gap by creating the Community Cruise Program, which gives specific Boston communities an opportunity to explore the beautiful Boston waterfront and Harbor for free with their neighbors.
Since the program’s founding in 2013, Boston Harbor Now has had the opportunity to serve more than 33,000 people through Community Cruises. Various Cruises have been offered over the years, like the Eastie Week Community Cruise, Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Cruise, and Veteran’s Cruise, to name a few. By teaming with community representatives to thoughtfully plan each cruise, we’ve made it a priority to have targeted cultural and educational programming incorporated onboard each Cruise. The Community Cruise program and other access initiatives have been lauded and recognized by grant-makers and philanthropists locally who are invested in seeing the program thrive, most recently receiving multi-year support from the Cummings Foundation.
To provide an idea of the total experience of a Cruise, during a recent AANHPI Community Cruise, guests were served delicious Japanese dinners while speakers from the AANHPI community provided culturally significant entertainment and information. This particular cruise was founded by Leverett Wing, a member of the Boston Harbor Now Board of Advisors and an active member of the greater Boston community. He expressed an interest to us in connecting his AANHPI community with an area of Boston that was special to him and his father: Boston Harbor.
As Leverett grew older, he became more cognizant of what the Harbor offers and the broad positive impact it has on so many people. Wanting to share the beauty of the Boston Harbor community with his AANHPI community, Leverett and the Boston Harbor Now team organized the first Chinatown Community Cruise in 2016, allowing these Chinatown community members to take advantage of the Harbor and educational programs. Seven years later, what started as the Chinatown Community Cruise has grown into the AANHPI Community Cruise, providing all AANHPI communities in the greater Boston area with a way to celebrate the Harbor and unite their community.
Thanks to the Community Cruise program, Boston Harbor Now and its community partners have given thousands of people the chance to enjoy the public spaces along our coast. Whether it’s a leisurely stroll along the waterfront or a relaxing cruise around the Harbor, the communities served by the Community Cruise program are seeing the mental and physical health benefits provided by green and blue spaces.
With summer quickly approaching, Boston Harbor Now is excited to kick off another season of Community Cruises for the 2023 ferry season. These special Cruises wouldn’t be possible though without the generous support from neighborhood community partners, as well as local donors and grantmakers. A huge thank you to all who have helped this program flourish over the years.
To learn more about Community Cruises and other free access programs and how to support them, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit: https://www.bostonharbornow.org/what-we-do/play/free-access/