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Boston Built a New Waterfront Just in Time for the Apocalypse

Developers scramble to protect a city’s glittering 1,000 acres from climate change.
Aerial view of Boston’s Seaport District on June 15, 2019.

Aerial view of Boston’s Seaport District on June 15, 2019.

Photographer: Alex MacLean for Bloomberg Businessweek

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On a balmy June morning, a gathering of local dignitaries welcomed the latest glittering jewel to Boston’s new Seaport District: a 17-story tower that will house 1,000 Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co. employees. In a display of artistry and engineering, the $240 million building will have an undulating glass facade designed to reflect the harbor’s rippling waters, as if it had risen fully formed from the ocean’s depths. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker marveled that he’d officiated at three or four groundbreakings here in just a few weeks. “Do you get to keep all that tax revenue?” he joked with Boston Mayor Marty Walsh.

Only a decade ago, Boston’s Seaport District, located just southeast of downtown, was little more than a crazy quilt of outdoor parking lots and warehouses. Then the city began recruiting startups and big corporations to what it dubbed a new “Innovation District,” and the area sprouted offices for General Electric, Amazon.com, Vertex Pharmaceuticals, Fidelity Investments, and PricewaterhouseCoopers, as well as luxury condominiums, museums, and some of the city’s hippest restaurants.