How about Patriots Point to celebrate the Legacy?

How about Patriots Point to celebrate the Legacy?

Christopher Nicodemus Charlestown, MA (excerpts from December blog post at

The Pier 5 Association is celebrating the decision by BPDA to reject the three development proposals advanced for privatization of pier 5. The BPDA has expressed willingness to allow the community to actively find preferred solutions for this critical location at the head of Boston harbor. Now is the time for the community together and find a solution worthy of the pier’s legacy.

Very specifically, the BDPA acknowledged the community position and our 3200 plus signatures and has called for the possibility of a creative public open space but certainly so far has not offered to foot the bill for what might be needed.

There is an opportunity now to reset the agenda around this issue and transform it from an oppositional reaction to an unpopular RFP into an emblematic coordinated effort from a broad coalition of community partners demonstrating cooperation, positive attitudes, coalition building, with strong government, private sector, and community participation. 

A popular misconception is that the only practical solution for the neglect of pier 5 is its complete demolition and replacement with something new. That idea was born of the desire either to construct a large structure over the water or the contrarian approach to remove the pier to claim its overwater footprint for densely placed floating housing. With either of these two objectives, full demolition of the pier became prerequisite step number one. Pier 5 Association suggests instead that we revisit the objectives and challenge the assumption.

The community has spoken, and we believe the best use of this space is to serve the broader social and community need and to preserve the open space for all. The history of Pier 4A/5 has been discussed in this blog series and is well documented in the Pier 5 Association materials. Preservation of this space as an outdoor destination, as a park with only small-scale construction and structural reinforcement is a preferred approach. Selective opening of the hardened surface to expose the underlying marine environment for educational and recreational purposes further compliments the revised objective and economic calculus. Further engineering studies are needed to identify constraints and opportunities resident in the existing structure. The pier’s skeleton is a marvel of the industriousness of the nation and the Charlestown community in responding to the crisis of world war. That effort and its memory must not be forgotten by future generations. 

Paul Revere’s ride, the USS Constitution and the War effort in World War II are sentinel bookmarks in the history of the free world. They are uniquely central to the history of this iconic location.

The planet now faces the consequences releasing geologic history’s bank of greenhouse gases back into the atmosphere concurrent to this living history. Temperatures are rising, remaining continental glaciers are melting, and sea levels are rising. The footprint of pier 5 itself can do little to protect Charlestown or Boston from future inundation, and the aquatic features living below the pier will not restore the ecosystems of the working harbor to their precolonial splendor. This space however, visited by millions of visitors from around the world as an iconic stop on the Freedom Trail adjacent to the inner harbor ferry and the Boston Historic Park, can do far more by deeply impacting all of its visitors and resident users alike and helping to teach core principles fundamental to a proud history and a sustainable future.

We believe that neglected federal infra-structure of iconic significance would be an appropriate target for infrastructure spending, and that near term opportunity must not be missed. Funds earmarked to the address the neglect of Pier 5 and the adjacent hardened shore should be sought. Furthermore, special fees paid to BPDA/BRA in association with real estate transactions involving the redeveloped property in the Navy Yard have contributed millions of dollars to the BRA operating budget and some of those dollars should be returned to this neighborhood in this cause as well. A broad coalition of community partners should come together to further formulate the vision. The pier should be a target of philanthropic funding, and efforts completed in parallel to other priorities in Charlestown.

This overwater sheet location is a 2-acre parcel that has had a front row seat to not only the history of our nation but also the transformation of tidal marshes and wetlands into an early economic engine in the industrialization of America connecting multiple inland waterways to the shipping channels of the Atlantic. The pier has witnessed the post-cold war ecological recovery of what was a tepid cesspool at its nadir and the ongoing transformation of a reactivated waterfront. Now with global warming and rising sea levels additional future transformations of the Boston Waterfront will be necessary. Pier 5 has a unique opportunity to serve a greater purpose for the public good in the name of this vision.

Some have suggested Patriots’ Point, Pier 5 Charlestown, Head of Boston Harbor as the worthy future name of this location. Perhaps others should be considered as well, but this is a great next chapter and a worthy start.

Above is a photograph of the nearby Charles River lock upstream of pier 5 as it was opened after this year’s Halloween heavy rains. This was a maneuver to rapidly lower retained water levels in the Charles River basin. The photo is taken at low tide and the tidal range is apparent in the stains on the scale.  The height of the gates gives pause. Flood water management for Charlestown and the great metro area will be one topic worthy of inclusion in the mosaics of the future Patriots’ Point Pier 5. The future pier 5 can educate with real world examples to the emerging battle of climate change, while reminding of us of the battle scenes of revolutionary war. The power of the water and its tidal range is plainly evidenced here—these are all clues to the challenges and opportunities associated with increasing rains and rising sea levels. These are lessons that our next generation of residents and visitors must appreciate if creative and sustainable solutions are to keep our small city, the world class destination and model for inclusive sustainable urban living with waterfront access to all that we at P5A believe it should be

photo credit CN