Sunday, July 14, 2013

Christopher Charles Reardon: Harbor Tour

Today's class featured an interactive tour of and discussion about the Boston Harbor. When we left the dock at Long Wharf for our harbor cruise, Bruce (our professor) pointed out to us that the neighborhoods of East Boston and South Boston are really not that far apart when viewed from the harbor: that essentially, the harbor brings everybody in Boston together. He talked passionately about the harbor as a great resource for all.

Having Fun Learning About Science

One by one, Bruce described the buildings we passed including the Institute of Contemporary Arts, the Moakley Courthouse, and finally Anthony's Pier 4. Bruce reminded us that Anthony's Pier 4 represents the way the waterfront used to look (dingy and weathered) whereas the bright and shiny buildings like the courthouse and the museum represent the new Boston: an area with exceptionally high real estate values. Bruce explained to us that people like the harbor because it is an excellent source of nutrient rich water, and that it is a protected area.

As we passed Logan Airport, the boat captain alerted us to a landing plane. Shortly thereafter, we watched the plane land and could even see the smoke billowing from its tires as they hit the runway. Bruce explained to us that Logan Airport used to consist of three individual islands the names of which he cannot remember.

Nixes Mate

 I was fascinated at the idea that although Boston Harbor is a rich industrial area, nobody really makes anything there anymore. Despite that lack of current manufacturing activity, the harbor seems filled with goings-on. We saw pleasure boats, fishing boats, shuttle, and tourist boats throughout the tour. At whichever shore one looked, people were casting fishing rods. Bruce described many of the islands in the harbor in detail. He talked about Deer Island: location of the Deer Island Treatment Plant. Bruce told us an interesting fact about the politics of Deer Island by describing the patronage jobs available for people to paint the facility for $60,000 per year. Furthermore, we discussed the method by which the paint is chosen: by the citizens of Winthrop Massachusetts. Bruce explained how in its past, Deer Island was, quite literally, the place where Native Americans stored deer because there were no natural predators on that island. Next, we passed newly built Spectacle Island, Long Island (home of many of Boston's less socioeconomically advantaged citizens as evidenced by its sizeable number of homeless individuals and people with substance use disorders). We then went through the Narrows and past Nixes Mate beacon and into Quincy bay for our first brief stop to discharge and pick-up passengers: George's Island.

Outer Islands and Georges Island

At George's Island, the colors in the water changed. To me the water seemed cleaner and lighter in color. Bruce attributes this change in color to us being further away from the turbid river discharge from the City of Boston. As we observed the difference in the water I wondered if our observation had anything to do with the fact that this was the one time during the cruise where the sun was at its brightest. After a few minutes, we left George's Island and Bruce explained the outer islands in the distance and Boston Light. It is worthwhile to note that later on in the day (although it was difficult to really hear him over the wind and the boat motor) Bruce explained that the controversy over today's wind turbines is nothing new and relates to the time when Boston light was originally built. The citizens, at the time, complained that the proposed lighthouse (now considered a historical treasure) would destroy their views in the future. This is the same argument that people make against today’s Cape Wind project. As we approached Hull, I was pleased to see a wind turbine. We also learned that on Peddocks Island (where we saw a cute little chapel) the possibility exists that the island might eventually become three separate islands due to rising sea levels.

Fore River Shipyard View

 As we approached Houghs Neck and learned about the City of Quincy’s failed affordable housing project, we could see the Fore River Bridge and the massive industrial area of the Quincy shipyard in front of us. As soon as we went under the bridge, we could see the Cruiser Salem: its guns rotting. It is impressive to think that such vessels used to be made so close to where we all live. Furthermore, it is interesting to consider that although the businesses that originally propelled Massachusetts Bay in business: fishing, and industry. have gone away, the area is just as vibrant as ever.

Beautiful Rotting Relic

On today's cruise, I learned that we are very lucky to live in such a wonderful place. The harbor is something that I take for granted. Even though I live close to it, I never pay it any mind. I learned that the harbor acts more like a bridge than a barrier: it connects communities such as Hull, Chelsea, and Quincy to downtown Boston by just a short boat ride. It seems so much nicer to take a 30-minute boat ride to downtown than to slog down the Southeast Expressway. Whenever I think about the Boston Harbor, I am reminded of the United States presidential debate in 1988 when George Bush Senior referred to then Governor Michael Dukakis’ answer to a debate question to be “about as clear as Boston Harbor." Judging from what I saw today, and from what Bruce has taught us so far in class, that is a political argument that no longer carries any weight.

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