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Boston and Lisbon: Putting the waterfront at the forefront

Posted by Chad O'Connor  October 9, 2012 11:00 AM

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The World Class Cities Partnership, an international research collaborative of municipal governments and universities headquartered at Northeastern University, is currently leading a delegation of Greater Boston's business, civic, academic and non-profit leaders on its annual Policy Exchange Mission to explore the Azores and Lisbon, Portugal. Portuguese officials are sharing their expertise in waterfront redevelopment, the innovation economy and an entrepreneurial ecosystem. Delegates will bring back their findings and look for opportunities to share and apply them in the Boston area, beginning with the WCCP's annual Chatham Forum.

LISBON - Boston and Lisbon, intertwined by history and geography, are putting their waterfronts at the forefront. It is no coincidence that both cities are looking toward the water's edge. Being port cities, it is their greatest physical asset, wanting a better waterfront that is more open to people, commerce and opportunity.

On Columbus Day, a World Class Cities Partnership (WCCP) delegation of Boston-area leaders, led by Executive Director Mike Lake, kicked off the Lisbon portion of a week-long mission in Portugal. A day of meetings and tours focused on the development of the 'Waterfront City,' one of three areas of focus for the mission along with creating the 'Entrepreneurial City' and promoting the 'Innovative City.'

Monday's objective was to understand the civic vision, strategy and implementation that is driving Lisbon's waterfront development, with the goal to take the concepts and lessons learned from Lisbon's challenges and successes, and inform Boston's own waterfront development.

The day began with an official ceremony at Lisbon City Hall to officially induct Lisbon into the World Class Cities Partnership. Signing on behalf of the city of Lisbon was Vice Mayor Manuel Selgado. His indelible handprint as a trained architect has shaped much of the recent development in Lisbon and the Azores, prior to his career in politics. The U.S. Ambassador to Portugal, Allan Katz, a key supporter of this year's WCCP mission, was present to commemorate the occasion.

One of Lisbon's enlightened strategies is an open innovation platform, referred to as 'participatory budgeting.' Here, citizens create and initiate projects, and then directly vote on them. Each year, the city is required to implement the most popular project. "Participatory budgeting is a great way to engage citizens in prioritizing discretionary spending projects that improve the city for residents," said WCCP delegate and Cambridge City Councilor Leland Cheung. The concept allows citizens to get behind projects they are passionate about, and it exposes them to the process of decision making and consensus building that government traditionally does on behalf of citizens.

Vice Mayor Selgado presented the Lisbon City Master Plan -- a strategic document that outlines the vision of a modern Waterfront City, including an action plan to make it a reality. One innovative part of Lisbon's plan is that businesses and developers are rewarded for the achievement of clearly measurable goals, rather than being penalized for non-compliance. A thoughtful credit incentive system awards opportunity and flexibility to those developers that advance the plan's goals. "Cities like Boston, should consider the implementation of similar transferable development credits to foster initiatives at the waterfront, which would allow for the attainment of policy objectives elsewhere in the city. Thus, the waterfront could be used as catalyst to achieve objectives in other neighborhoods," said WCCP delegate Robert Buckley, a senior partner at Riemer & Braunstein, LLP.

Also on hand at the ceremony was Lisbon City Councilor Graca Fonseca, who presented her city's ambitious plans to catalyze innovation and entrepreneurship, including satisfying the increasing demand for cooperative work spaces. She remarked that an accessible, useful and attractive waterfront is a magnet that draws a creative and active workforce.

During last year's WCCP delegation to Spain, attendees learned about the defining effect of the 1992 Olympics on the waterfront of Barcelona. In the years leading up to the games, Barcelona leveraged a huge capital investment in infrastructure and revitalization to reposition their city. Yesterday in Lisbon, Selgado discussed the similar impact of World Expo '98 on his city. In preparation for this global event, Lisbon established a single public corporation, ParqueExpo, to redevelop 5,000 acres of waterfront in need of remediation–reminiscent of the South Boston waterfront.

Following Lisbon's very successful World Expo, a second phase of development evolved, repositioning parking lots and other spaces to create a vibrant, mixed-use community, expanding the waterfront far beyond the limits of previous decades. In the cases of Barcelona and Lisbon, similar major events brought real estate development and infrastructure improvement, specifically along the water, that allowed for further economic development and an enlarged and improved city fabric. What could the dividends be of Boston hosting a similar defining event?

Framing the day, the afternoon culminated with the signing of an Agreement of Cooperation between the Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport), represented by Acting Chief Development Officer James Doolin, and the Port of Lisbon (APL), represented by Board of Directors member Andreia Ventura. This pioneering agreement was forged with an action-oriented purpose to foster valuable business connections, leading to job growth between two major and historic ports in the Atlantic rim.

The delegation looks forward to further meetings and visits this week which will explore the other two focuses of the mission: creating the 'Entrepreneurial City' and promoting the 'Innovative City.'

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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