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New Bedford’s “Boardwalk”


In a previous life, when I helped promote or put together literary events in New Jersey, one of the stand-out days was when author Junot Diaz came to town for a Question & Answer event in our city on the Jersey Shore. He was as cool as could be – and left something inspirational behind. A quote for a mural project along a section of Jersey’s famed boardwalk which read in part:

“The boardwalk was where all of NJ came together…”

That simple quote summed up the appeal of the boardwalk – it was and is truly a place where everyone came together.

And now, New Bedford has the equivalent of just such a place with its Harbor Walk and Cove Walk ringing the city’s south end. Make no mistake about it – this is an amazing addition to our city and potential game-changer.

Harbor Walk and Cove Walk

The Harbor Walk off East Rodney French Boulevard offers a beautiful view of Buzzards Bay, New Bedford and Fairhaven – and a first look at ships of all types making the city their port of call.

The view from Cove Walk off West Rodney overlooking New Bedford and South Dartmouth is simply exquisite. It runs along Kilburn Mill Studios and arcs all the way to Rockdale Avenue.

The opportunity for walking, running and especially biking are now bountiful in and from New Bedford’s south end. Taken together with graceful Fort Rodman, a complete circuit exists around what is commonly called “The Peninsula.” where you can engage in all these activities unimpeded. If you exit Cove Walk at Rockdale, all of South Dartmouth beckons for the cyclist. (Or, very ambitious jogger!)

The Harbor and Cove Walks are the crowning achievements of a long effort to reinvigorate this section of the city. Along with the municipal beaches, Hazelwood Park, Fort Rodman, and the sea, a complete package of summer recreation awaits you in New Bedford’s south end.


Where all New Bedford came together

Not that people have been waiting for summer. Both Harbor Walk and Cove Walk have already become destinations where “everyone came together.” I’ve seen it since Harbor Walk opened last year and throughout the winter once Cove Walk was completed. In this case, it’s true: If you build it, they will come.

To the many people who have already succumbed to the charms of these two walks, the decision to build Harbor and Cove Walk atop the Hurricane Barrier may seem to have been a no-brainer. But, the barrier has existed for about 50 years and no one did it.

Leadership in City Hall

Mayor Jon Mitchell did it – and hats off to him. It’s easy to be cynical about government these days – yet here’s an example of what effective municipal government can accomplish. It can realize a simple idea and create the conditions necessary for a city to thrive.

That’s not possible without investing in what we now call “place-making.” Back in the day, place-making was just various examples of civic pride. Parks, playgrounds, libraries, etc. These amenities were added as cities grew.

Today, when re-imaging and in many cases re-purposing a city, you have to put a little more thought into it. Needs change over time. And today, what this city needs is opportunities to come together and collectively forge a new direction into the future. The Harbor and Cove Walks are huge steps in that direction.

The South End is poised for growth

The Harbor and Cove Walks help complete the new architecture of New Bedford’s south end. The foundation is strong and now it can be built on through community and commercial efforts which will help realize its promise.

It’s already happening in ways big and small with the School for Marine Science and Technology (SMAST) expansion, discussion of an Innovation District and two new public schools being built – all in the south end.

Commercial activity, however, remains a laggard. The Kilburn Mill Studios building, in particular, with its concentration of art studios and galleries and unique businesses like the New Bedford Antiques Center could become a private-sector catalyst for the area if it finds the right buyer for the property. The south end is also ripe for a few new eateries and other merchant amenities. The keen entrepreneur will look here for business opportunity.

The motivated – like arts leader Brooke Baptiste – will seek out chances to realize destination events which give the city so much flavor. Last year, Baptiste successfully launched Reggae at the Beach on West Beach. This year, she’s planned a whole series of concerts as a follow-up. (See more here.) Additionally, many other organizations are making Fort Rodman a base for other events and happenings at an increasing pace.

In all, the infrastructure is here and New Bedford’s south end is ready.

Walk this way.


Steven Froias