Friday, December 6, 2013
BOSTON — I grew up just outside of Boston, and was lucky enough to have parents who took us without hesitation to all the key attractions in the city.
The New England Aquarium led redevelopment of Boston’s waterfront 40 years ago, and it’s still a tourism magnet.
Aquarium staff member Tony LaCasse describes the sea lions exhibit to visitors. He says Boston’s Harborwalk and nearby Rose Kennedy Greenway have increased activity around the aquarium.
Courtesy Boston Harbor Association
We went to the New England Aquarium soon after it opened in 1969, and returned regularly thereafter. I've been to Old Ironsides more times than I can possibly count.
As a family, we spent numerous Saturday nights at Haymarket Square absorbing the Italian culture of the North End. When Faneuil Hall was re-imagined as an urban marketplace in the 1970s, we were there.
I thought I knew Boston pretty well. But this summer, I realized I hardly know Boston at all. This summer, I rediscovered the Boston waterfront as a very different place than I knew in my youth.
I drove down for an opening at the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston, which is a relatively new cultural institution in South Boston.
Great spot. I loved the exhibition and enjoyed the experience.
After the press hoo-ha at the ICA, a Boston-area friend and I were equally shocked to discover how easily the city opened up before us. We spent several hours on the Boston Harborwalk, a multi-use trail that conveniently connects South Boston to Charlestown. We explored about three miles on foot and with an MBTA ferry.
That's just a tiny segment of the trail, which has been decades in the making. The Big Dig transformed Boston, but the Harborwalk makes it instantly and conveniently accessible.
All those stories about Boston traffic and how hard it is to get around town? Forget it.
Boston is a piece of cake.
Including the ICA, we visited five cultural institutions, and had lunch at a local food cart and a drink afterward. Not including admission to the museums or dinner, we spent less than $30. Most of that was for parking at the ICA.
And we did it all on foot, except for the ferry.
What I found most interesting was how different the city felt on the waterfront. I thought I knew this place. It used to be home, and I took pride in hopping on the Green Line and going anywhere the subway would take us.
But in terms of the waterfront, my knowledge seemed to end at the aquarium, the USS Constitution Museum or Haymarket. Everything else was out of reach, confusing.
A combination of public investment and private enterprise has led to an economic revitalization of the waterfront, much of which is based around cultural attractions, said Julie Wormser, executive director of the Boston Harbor Association.
Among many other things, the association coordinates publicity and information about the waterfront, which has a series of summer activities planned to encourage people to get outside.
Dozens of institutions and entities contribute to its overall vitality, she said.
"It's like a stone soup. Nobody adds much, but everyone adds a little. It becomes a feast," Wormser said.
After the ICA, we walked to the Boston Children's Museum, which is hosting a Native American arts exhibition through Labor Day. The exhibition features a number of Maine connections, including stories and profiles of Penobscot and Passamaquoddy Indians.
The museum is on Congress Street, along the Fort Point Channel and just a short walk from the ICA. Right outside its doors is the newly opened Boston Tea Party Museum. It reopened the week we were there, and includes interpretive exhibitions about the root causes of the Revolutionary War.
This museum was not around when I was growing up. Had it been, I would have done much better in history class.
From there, we hoofed it over to the New England Aquarium on Central Wharf. The aquarium has been an anchor tenant on the waterfront for more than 40 years, and one could argue that it led the redevelopment of the waterfront in terms of tourism. It is now one among many key institutions.
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