Highway to Home

Don't know where the Wharf District is? Boston's newest neighborhood isn't quite sure, either. —David Riedel

wharf district

(Map by Liz Noftle.)

So much time has passed since the Central Artery mercifully came down that it’s hard to remember just how much that elevated hunk of highway divided the city. The bleak streets that once sat in the shadow of the highway have become, a decade later, an integral — and livable — part ?of Boston.

Now business owners and residents who occupy the area — bordered by the harbor, the North End, and Chinatown (essentially a large slice of the Financial District) — want a unifying identity to match their new status. First step: Name your ’hood. Recently, residents began referring to this area as the Wharf District, and last year they formed their own neighborhood group, the Wharf District Council. The WDC’s executive director, Susanne Lavoie, explains that the existing Chinatown and North End community groups just weren’t representing their interests. So they created a new one.

At this point, the name is the only proof that the Wharf District exists. Amenities that typically anchor neighborhoods — resident parking stickers, supermarkets, a Menino-endorsed sign welcoming you to the area — haven’t yet appeared. Even the prospective neighborhood’s boundaries are up for debate. Consider 20 Rowes Wharf, a massive condo building that falls well within the borders claimed by the WDC. Several members of the North End Waterfront Association say that, without a doubt, it’s part of their turf.

Boston's Wharf District

What would you call this neighborhood? (Photo by Bob O’Connor.)

Will the city acknowledge the nascent Wharf District? While the mayor’s office has yet to make any official proclamations, the BRA has dedicated $3.7 million to renovate Broad Street under the Crossroads Initiative, a program designed to help stitch the city back together using the Green-way as a backbone. (Broad Street, by the way, is described as part of both the Wharf District and the Financial District on the BRA’s website.)

However, Janet Knott, chief of staff to City Councilor Salvatore LaMattina, calls the name game a cheap way to make the old appear new. “Oh, I just think it’s a matter of microlabeling,” she says, “and they could say I live in the North End when the day before they said I live in the Wharf District.”