Guest Op-Ed: Pier 5 and Community

By Christopher Nicodemus

The Pier 5 Association ( continues to advocate for a public use for the future of Pier 5 in the Navy Yard. We have more than 2,000 signatures in support of our position. The community voice strongly prefers to see the Head of Boston Harbor remain open for all to appreciate. Curiously, there is sentiment voice being promoted from some corners suggesting that the most equitable disposition of the pier by the City of Boston should be to convert this location into residential living space and assure a significant fraction of built out units are affordable. Advocates for this position claim that they are supporters of social justice and the needs of our community.  In their efforts toward this noble goal, they should not ignore the reality of climate change and the principles of responsible waterfront utilization that prevail throughout the world.  As both affordable housing and open space have become rallying cries around social justice for all residents of the city of Boston, these two objectives should not be viewed as mutually exclusive.

Construction of a low rise three story structure along the pier as some advocate would adversely impact the views of perhaps 15 out of 200 units (less than 10%) at Flagship Wharf Condominium, but would obliterate the view corridors from the shore side of the Harborwalk when moving in either direction between Pier 4 and Pier 7 for 100% of users.  The infrastructure impact associated with providing access, deliveries, and adequate public safety services out to Pier 5 would be significant.  8th Street exceeds capacity already on a regular basis. An additional 100 plus residential units and possibly businesses out on Pier 5 will negatively impact all aspects of 8th Street and its residential and commercial residents including Pier 6, Parris Landing, and the Courageous Sailing Center.  Likewise, all 60 units at Constellation would be negatively impacted as well.

Pier 5 is an historic location of significance that is an asset of value to all residents of Charlestown that has been neglected for too long. The City seems prepared to shun its stewardship responsibility for this property and turn the asset over for private development, thus monetizing a unique asset to finance the Planning and Redevelopment Authority at the expense of the community.  With infrastructure dollars being authorized at the federal level the opportunity to attend to this neglected infrastructure in a creative way is before us, today. With growing attention and public support, additional philanthropic resources should be able to further enhance the importance and quality of what the future of Pier 5 might be.

The Big Sky impression of the Harborwalk, some will argue, is preserved if the “structure on Pier 5” includes a water edge promenade serving to extend the current harbor walk.  It requires that the individual user meander around the edge of the pier which many would not do, be it due to disability, inconvenience, or time. Any long structure on the pier would obliterate that Big Sky impression currently evident from Pier 7 to Pier 4 from the shore and negatively impact the eastern views from Pier 3. 

This view corridor is not just a skyline view, but rather a unique aesthetic perspective that incorporates a level foreground, a distant perspective, and an expansive radius of backdropping sky.  One can track the sun, the moon, and the stars across the ecliptic from such a location. This is an aesthetic feature of this waterfront unique to the junction of the Mystic and Charles River estuaries at the Head of the Harbor.  This location is unique but vulnerable.  It is an asset to all residents of Charlestown, Boston, and our visitors.  The value of such a public asset is priceless.  This space is not a tired building lot needing renovation but is neglected and orphaned open space that was further expanded in the war effort of World War II.  The Navy indeed encroached on the communal water sheet to enhance ship repair and construction capacity in the war.  The residents of Charlestown heroically rallied to that cause. Further encroachment on the water sheet and the view corridors especially in a time of rising sea levels and intensifying coastal storms must not be allowed.

The space is fragile, in harm’s way, vulnerable to the forces of climate change. It is also neglected infrastructure that belongs to the people of Boston.  As an attractive destination to the people of Charlestown and our visitors it can provide an aesthetic and rejuvenating experience to its visitors. An experience long appreciated by Olmsted as essential for residents confined to dense urban residential environments.  Charlestown has only pocket parks. We are the most densely settled neighborhood in Boston and are home to the largest public housing complex in New England.  Many additional subsidized and market rate housing units are planned for imminent construction in Charlestown a short distance away.  Density should be put where it makes the most sense, not in a location susceptible to rising tides and storm surges and allow for ALL residents to access the Boston Harbor and its environs by protecting Pier 5 for open space and public programming.  Pier 5 should stand as an example of smart public planning and urban renewal, allowing access for all to the waterfront and the environment it provides.  Pier 5 at the head of Boston Harbor, small as it may be, is a keystone to the community waterfront and should be improved to enhance the public aesthetic and educational experience for all.

Many ideas for uses of the pier and its historical and scientific importance are described in the chapters of my blog on the web site.  I encourage readers to check them out and share their ideas at For readers unfamiliar with Pier 5, I encourage you to visit the Navy Yard and if downtown, take the water shuttle from Long Wharf and walk the Harborwalk between the USS Constitution and the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital.  It is an experience you will genuinely enjoy. It should be more accessible and more inviting for everyone and a feature of the Imagine Boston 2030 reality.

 Christopher Nicodemus is a founding member Pier 5 Association.

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