How Boston is Using Data to Imagine a Brighter Future

One of the simplest ways for citizens to get involved in local government is through city planning. City planning can be done in many ways and take on different forms. Screenshot 2015-07-31 10.22.10

For example, city planning in Boston has taken on a whole new meaning with the Imagine Boston 2030 initiative.

The program, which launched in September 2015, is an inclusive effort by Boston’s Mayor Martin J. Walsh, to engage citizens at every level in the city planning process. By hosting live events, engaging in data-driven dialogue and providing open access to information, Boston is reframing the standard notions of city planning and making it an all-encompassing experience. Traditionally, city planning is a sort-of members-only club that rarely involves the public. By purposefully getting the word out, and engaging citizens at every step, Boston is changing that convention.

Natalia Urtubey, Director of Engagement for Imagine Boston 2030, spoke with GovLoop about Imagine Boston and how other cities can begin implementing engaging tactics to involve citizens in their own planning strategies.

Urtubey explained that one of the most important aspects to ensure success with any initiative is making sure that the correct leadership is involved.

“Mayor Walsh was trying to think about taking what the public wants, and everything that he had envisioned for the city, and turn[ing] it into the first citywide planning process in over 50 years,” Urtubey said. “So he launched Imagine Boston 2030 last September, and since then we’ve had several campaigns around civic engagement to get the public’s thoughts [and] have residents and people working in the city of Boston give input around the things that are mostimportant to them.”

With the correct mindset and goals in place, Urtubey said they were then able to work to create a Boston that is more inclusive and addresses some of the challenges of everyday residents, such as a rapidly-growing population and preparing for climate change. To do this, Boston looked to technology and all its potential to bring citizens together.

The city is developing an interactive PDF that allows residents to review the city’s draft plan, “Expanding Opportunity” and submit their feedback using a survey. This plan will be released this Fall.

By commissioning residents to share their opinions, Boston is able to work toward progressive change within the city. At a recent event, Boston by the Numbers, the city’s research department, which falls under the Boston Planning and Development agency, presented trends about Boston’s current and future population and hosted a question and answer session with residents about the data. For example, the department shared that Boston’s population is projected to grow to 723,500 by 2030, up from 669,469 residents in 2015. One of the proposed solutions to this expanding population is to expand neighborhoods to foster more job and housing opportunities.

This event, and future sessions to be hosted by Imagine Boston, are all dependent on technology and data bringing citizens together. By making the initiatives inclusive as possible, and forming a team of hardworking individuals, Imagine Boston is able to implement a call for change at very high levels. This includes leadership and participation extending beyond simply the Mayor’s office, and spreading it all the way to his cabinet, and the public as well.

“Mayor Walsh has made sure that every single one of his cabinet members are part of this process to ensure that their priorities are in line,” Urtubey noted. “He’s ensuring that they’re hearing from the residents and are able to really collaborate well and work to move the plan forward.”

Urtubey suggested that other cities do the same, emphasizing the importance of transparency and working with residents to set goals that affect the city. By interacting with citizens and allowing for an open dialogue, both city employees and residents can make a change in their local government.

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