Voices of the Waterfront Exhibit Illustrates Community Connection

By New England Aquarium on Wednesday, November 01, 2023

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Voices of the Waterfront exhibit along Boston's Harborwalk Photo: Vanessa Kahn

On Central Wharf, sentiments from community members eager to provide a resilient and inclusive waterfront will be on display as part of the free Voices of the Waterfront photography exhibition, now open through spring 2024 at the New England Aquarium. For months, Luz Arregoces, director of community engagement at the Aquarium, has been gathering quotes and photos from the Coalition for a Resilient and Inclusive Waterfront (CRIW)—an alliance of about 60 nonprofit organizations focused on bringing the issues facing Boston’s harbor and rivers to the forefront of the public conversation—to display around the south perimeter of the Aquarium, along the Boston Harborwalk.

The exhibit highlights four different watersheds including the Charles River Watershed, the Neponset River Watershed, the Boston Harbor and islands, and the Mystic River Watershed. Working on this project, Arregoces says, “reinforced that people do feel a connection to the water here. Even though there’s so much work that we can continue to do, this establishes a baseline of affinity for the water and everything it does for the city.”

Below, Arregoces talks more about the process.

Voices of the Waterfront intro panel on Central Wharf
Voices of the Waterfront intro panel on Central Wharf Photo: Vanessa Kahn

How did the Voices of the Waterfront project come to be?

I think we do a lot of work trying to engage people on the waterfront and make sure it’s accessible to those who are enjoying it, [and that] it’s reflective of what our city as a whole looks like. And there’s so much work being done, whether it’s via organizations and nonprofits or individual efforts to make the waterfront more inclusive. So, it felt important to be able to show visitors on the Harbor Walk in Central Wharf what is being done. The exhibit, between photos and quotes from individuals, tries to represent that. As the title suggests, voices of the waterfront is showing all the different identities and lived experiences that come together to create the downtown waterfront.

How long have you been working on this project?

Since April, so about seven months. As a founding member of the Coalition for a Resilient and Inclusive Waterfront, the Aquarium put out a call to action for other CRIW partners to submit photos they felt represented what the waterfront means to them and their work, and quotes about what a resilient, accessible, and inclusive waterfront would be to them.

In the responses, were there patterns or other similarities?

What I liked seeing most was the different ways the water is being activated throughout the city. Something that I think is critical is making sure spaces are multiuse as opposed to one dimensional. So, there’s a photo of an exercise class on the Esplanade, there’s a photo of the cruises in Boston Harbor. There’s a trail along the Neponset River where people jog and bike, and it shows what already exists and what people are doing. Then, it gives us examples of what we can be doing more of along the water.

You talked about the work that still needs to be done. Aspirationally, what do you hope for when it comes to that work?

The New England Aquarium is working a lot on sea level rise mitigation and coastal resiliency. I think the region is overdue to make sure that there are resilient measures put in place along the coast to make sure this isn’t all underwater [one day], so people can continue to enjoy it. So that physical infrastructure is important. From a social perspective, creating more connectivity from other neighborhoods of Boston to the waterfront areas is important. Accessibility and transportation are some of the barriers that exist right now, so being able to find ways everyone can enjoy the waterfront the way people already are but building on that to make sure everyone feels like they have a say.

How do we ensure people have connectivity to the water and show them how to protect it?

Part of that is making sure people feel like they are educated on what’s happening to the water and that they know what resources are available. We play a big role in that too as an Aquarium. We have the science, we have the data and the research, and we could show them how to have a balanced use of the coast and the ocean and the waterways. Being able to both protect and enjoy the ocean all at the same time is critical.

And then maybe that will spark a feeling of ownership, right?

Exactly. Hopefully, they might see [the ocean] as something that’s theirs.

Voices of the Waterfront is free and open to the public. Visit the Harborwalk on Central Wharf to view it.
Voices of the Waterfront is presented in partnership with the Coalition for a Resilient and Inclusive Waterfront
Voices of the Waterfront is presented in partnership with the Coalition for a Resilient and Inclusive Waterfront Photo: Vanessa Kahn

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