Columbia Point and the Morrissey Blvd. seem to be standing before two possible futures.

  1. One is planned and economically-driven evolution into a mixed-use, transit-oriented hub — linking downtown Boston with several large institutions which are slated to expand in coming years, perhaps with investment brought by the Olympics. This future is universally appealing, but
  2. There is an inconvenient reality. A steadily rising tide that even now inundates Morrissey Boulevard on a regular basis threatens long-term viability of development old and new. Rising maintenance and insurance costs will create financial stress that could lead to shock and abandonment after a major storm. Repair and maintenance to city infrastructure will become a larger and larger expenditure with each passing year.

There may be another way. The City of Boston could make a long term strategic investment in sustainable infrastructure, use existing regulatory tools to limit the expansion of development in hazardous areas, and produce new and exciting ways to live with nature in a city.

Morrissey Boulevard could be reconstructed at the surge level of future storms, greatly reducing lifetime maintenance costs. The Boulevard could be right-sized to accommodate future vermicular, bicycle and pedestrian traffic patterns, as well as providing space for potential future mass transit.
Working closely with the surrounding neighborhoods and stakeholders, the City could establish growth boundaries within the existing uses of the peninsula. These boundaries would be subject to intense public debate and clear opposition from current landholders, but the City could adopt a set of criteria for their establishment such as: intensity of land use (from housing to un-programmed open space), flood hazard level, age of building/approximate life span, and market value. An underutilized parking area with a high flood elevation would likely fall outside of the growth boundary.

Inside of the growth boundaries, the City could allow any reasonable development at the risk of the developer. The developer would be responsible for building and maintaining its own flood protection systems and connections to public infrastructure.

Outside of the growth boundary on the newly created public easement, the landfill which had been accumulated through municipal waste in the late 19th and early 20th century would be gradually uncovered and processed offsite (more on this). Gradually Columbia Point returns to its former ecological diversity with saltwater marshes and a rich habitat for birds and fish. This new and unique public open space can be enjoyed through a network of walking paths serving the immediate neighborhoods and attracting residents of Dorchester to the waterfront.

This proposal cannot anticipate the legal, political, and deeply emotional factors at stake in the future of Columbia Point. This battle will be fought in boardrooms, neighborhood meetings, the State House, City hall, and courtrooms in the years to come. We hope that this proposal shows a possible future, a high road, to living with water.

Company Name
Harvard Graduate School of Design

Team Member(s)
Thaddeus Pawlowski, Urban Design

Jeenal Sawla, Urban Planning/ Architecture (Team Leader)
William Rosenthal, Urban Design/ Architecture
Sourav Biswas, Landscape Architecture/ Architecture
Stephanie Hsia, Landscape Architecture/ Environmental Science/Biology
Ho-Ting Liu, Landscape Architecture/ Arts
Ellen Epley, Landscape Architecture

Jaime Blosser, Architecture
Jared Katseff. Urban Planning/ MBA