The neighborhood first began to take shape in the 1850s as an industrial zone built on landfill. The area was largely shaped by train tracks and freight terminals and surrounded by industrial fishing piers. In fact, Fan Pier got its name from the radiating pattern of these tracks, which terminated at ship berths along the water. From the 1920s to the 1960s, a bustling fishing industry operated from the Harbor Wharves—Fish Pier and Commonwealth Pier—where fishermen would unload, sell, and distribute their catch. Fish Pier is still active today, and Commonwealth Pier is now the site of Boston’s World Trade Center. By the 1950s and 1960s, many of the factories that had defined the area shuttered and the Seaport was pockmarked with abandoned warehouses and vacant lots.
In 2010, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino (Hon.’01) set forth an ambitious plan to redevelop 1,000 acres of the Boston South Waterfront as an Innovation District. His vision was to create a hub for cutting-edge industries. Restoration of the area began in earnest in 2007 with the completion of the Big Dig, the massive, decades-long $8 billion infrastructure project that moved the central I-93 Interstate artery underground, and extended the Massachusetts Turnpike across Boston Harbor to Logan International Airport.
Today, the neighborhood, which is bordered by Boston Harbor to the north and east, the Fort Point Channel to the west, and South Boston to the south, is populated by finance, tech, and pharma companies, the massive Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, and the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston and is a popular and vibrant nightlife destination. Given its proximity to the water, the neighborhood is seen as vulnerable to climate-related flooding in the coming decades, so much of the new construction has been built with heating and air-conditioning systems located on upper floors, rather than below ground.