CLF Shares Harbor Preservation Strategies with Indonesian Delegates

Nancy Shrodes

The Boston Harbor Hotel is innovative in maintaining public access to Boston's waterfront with its beautiful and distinctive arch.

On Friday, June 10, CLF’s Boston office had the pleasure to host 10 members of the Indonesian non-profit organization Genderang Bahari (Maritime Spirit) Movement to discuss strategies for the preservation of historic harbors. The professional exchange was sponsored by the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program and arranged by the local nonprofit organization WorldBoston.  Members of the movement are interested in gaining ideas and insight into how to best revive the approximately 80 old harbors in Nusantara, Indonesia.

CLF’s Peter Shelley spoke to the diverse group of engineers, architects, and project managers about the strategies behind historical preservation and the role of non-profit organizations like CLF in such processes. As a way to provide context, Peter described the history of relevant land and zoning laws in America.  Our guests were understandably surprised by the fact that the heart of Boston used to be intertidal mud flats (the current location of CLF’s Boston office was actually underwater in the 1700s), and that the laws we use today to protect public lands originate from the King of England’s mandates in the colonial era. Their amazement reflected the sometimes overlooked richness of Boston’s history.

The Colonial Ordinances of 1641-1647 granted private ownership of coastal property in Massachusetts as long as the public’s historic rights to fish, fowl, and navigate coastal lands were protected and maintained. Still in effect today, the old “fish, fowl, and navigate” public rights are broadly defined to include other public benefits. As such, the state can require private developers building on the waterfront to provide bathrooms or create walkways for the general public. In fact, CLF used this concept in the 1980s to ensure that the placement of the Boston Harbor Hotel, located on Boston’s waterfront, would not obstruct public access to the waterfront – this resulted in the design and construction of the hotel’s beautiful arched dome walkway, allowing the public a gateway underneath the hotel from the street to the harbor. The Indonesian delegates, having seen the hotel and its distinctive arch, recognized the significance of this legal tool.

In his advice to the delegates, Peter Shelley emphasized the need for having compelling vision, community support, and leverage, all of which should be further supported by an economic argument. When discussing leverage, protection, and potential obstacles, the conversation always returned to money, an internationally understood incentive and potential complication. One guest revealed that his non-profit organization faces a social problem as well, because nobody seems to care about the “local people by the sea.”

After Peter finished describing the role of CLF like that of a “watchdog,” the delegates were inspired and expressed their need for an organization like CLF in Indonesia to help them preserve their historic harbors. They were enthusiastic about the initiative, collecting several different ideas of how best to proceed with their project after listening to how public property is protected in America. At the close of the meeting, Peter left them with a poignant and lasting piece of advice. He reminded them that the process of creating a successful campaign is “not easy, but it’s certainly worth fighting for.”

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