Urban Harbors Institute
Interviewed by Tara Weaver 11/20/2008
How would you describe your personal connection to the islands?
I’ve been looking out at them from my office at UMass-Boston for almost 20 years now. My personal connection with the islands really is a professional connection to begin with, but since getting involved with some of the management back in the early 1990s, I’ve been out there a dozen times or more and really love them.
When was the Urban Harbors Institute established and what is its mission?
The Urban Harbors Institute was established in 1989. Its mission is to conduct applied research and provide technical assistance to those managing resources and uses in coastal and marine areas.
Our expertise is in policy, planning and management informed by science. We work mostly with government agencies—federal, state and local—helping them make better management decisions based on science. Our role is to transfer expertise at the University to the outside world. We do this through research that advances the knowledge base, technical assistance, and public educational programming.
How was the Urban Harbors Institute involved with the Boston Harbor Islands before they were established as a National Park area?
We were involved for a number of years in various capacities with Boston Harbor Islands State Park and then when the federal legislation was being drafted to make the islands a national park area. Our involvement stemmed from the work we and others at the University had contributed to addressing the water quality problems of the harbor in the 1980s. It was observed at that time that, while there was a wealth of scientific expertise available, there was no academic institution focusing on the public policy questions related to the coastal environment, particularly those areas affected by urbanization. Our Institute was created in response to that perceived need. As the harbor’s water quality improved over the years, we turned to other related issues, such as the renewed interest in improving the Boston Harbor Islands as a public park!
This year’s Science Symposium was hosted by UMass Boston; can you explain how the Urban Harbors Institute and University of Massachusetts-Boston are connected to the science initiatives happening at Boston Harbor Islands?
At the Urban Harbors Institute, we’ve been working with current and former park superintendents, Bruce Jacobson and George Price, from the beginning. They know that we are interested in supporting the islands in whatever way we can. Bruce asked us for help in coordinating the first symposium at the Museum of Science, because we had done many conference-type events. But we wouldn’t do this for just anybody—we have a longstanding relationship with Boston Harbor Islands.
This year’s symposium was held here on the UMass Boston campus and we were thrilled to host it. The University and the Urban Harbors Institute are close to the islands in many ways—it is a natural connection. Though our University scientists aren’t currently conducting natural science research supported by the park, many individual faculty members have done research on the islands others visit the islands on field trips with classes.
Coastal and Harbor Management in Boston Harbor Islands
What specific Boston Harbor Islands coastal management policies and plans have the Urban Harbors Institute helped develop or implement?
I chaired the Advisory Council when the park general management plan was being developed, so had a good opportunity to help shape that plan. At that time, the Advisory Council had two priority objectives for the park. The first was public access; the park had to be affordable and easily accessible to the people who lived in the urban area of Boston. The second was financing: how will park operations and needed improvements be supported? The Institute led a predevelopment study of renewables in the Boston Harbor Islands National Park Area, and contributed as an advisor on a scenic valuation study.
What is the “predevelopment of renewables in Boston Harbor Islands national park area”?
The Subcommittee on Renewable Energy and Sustainable Design, a subcommittee of the Partnership’s Planning Committee, was formed to answer the need for a focus on sustainable design and renewable energy.This committee asked the question, “How can we advance the park’s policies on sustainable design and renewable energy on the islands?” “Is it through solar power, wind turbines, etc? ... ” We decided to look at the possibility of developing renewable energy that would provide power on the islands, serve an educational purpose for visitors, demonstrate the park’s commitment to sustainability, and potentially bring in revenue for the park through the sale of energy. We wrote a proposal to the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative and they awarded a grant to the Boston Harbor Island Alliance and the Urban Harbors Institute to perform a renewable energy feasibility study.