Colleen R Dunning

Northern Ave Bridge Competition

In 2016, I was one of the winners of Boston's Northern Avenue Bridge Competition, envisioning a renewed waterfront in the Fort Point Neighborhood. This is the essay submission:

Northern Ave

A City in Motion, Pauses

(Northern Avenue Bridge Competition, 2016, winner)

Mine is a city of motion.  A city that breathes and pulses, rolls and rides and steps with purpose. Most of the time it is head down, into the wind, a metropolis of straightforward and serious purpose. And yet a green and blue ribbon of breath is starting to trace its way through this city. Traffic still hems in the edges and interrupts the pace, there is still a self-conscious glance before indulgence in public leisure, but we are learning. I’ve seen it at cafe tables outside office buildings, at yarn-bombed bus stops and on shared bicycles. We are learning to wait, to nod, to pause.

This Bridge is a gateway. A gateway to the Channel, to a new concept for Boston. A vantage point towards a section of the city where the harbor is not just something we admire from a lovely walkway, but a living organ we can touch and tend to. The Channel that carried goods from warehouse to merchants, that sloughed off soil to sink a tunnel, is our new classroom, playground, garden and gymnasium.

The Bridge is seated between high-rises at both ends, but well prepared for welcoming a new life – we’ve staked out broadening plazas at both ends that pulse with salsa lessons on Friday nights, warming huts serving hot chocolate and cider sheltered from the bitter wind. There are no cars here, you are free to take your time, this bridge is made for exploring – though one verdant vault concedes a fast-lane for those purposeful sorts on bikes or rushing to the office.

There’s the launching pad for kayak rentals and the kiosk for the Dragon Boat Club. Towers of plants stretch down into the harbor, anchored with oyster cages at their bases; students encounter the biome of the water column. Tides are marked on pylons, predictions for storms and surges, PhD experiments hung from crossbeams invite questions and solicit input with #hashtags.

This Bridge has a history as well, calluses of labor etched into its swing span and rivets. Its proud vaults are mostly new, but the patina shows clearly which bones are the oldest. The original shape is visible in the new, sinuous form, though it no longer swings. Instead – all three of the historic bridges are here in model – and curious teams turn cranks to engage the gears that open, swing, and pull them open and shut again.

A floating barge swings out for sunbathing and picnics, topped with sand and folding chairs for the too-brief summer months.  You can, if you’d like, dip your feet in the water again. The harbor ebbs and flows into our daily lives as more than just a view, a panorama. This bridge, accessible and explorable from depths to heights, reconnects us with the harbor and the sea. As our harbor rises, we will make room, we will adjust, but first we need to reintroduce ourselves.

And in a few years this bridge will change. There will be new events and new priorities, new games and new concerns. This is a work in progress; we are a work in progress.