Stuck in a rut? Why Boston is asking its people for new ideas

Jan 18, 2017

By Doug Peeples, Smart Cities Council

While Boston is already considered a progressive and innovative place, city officials there think they can do better with their smart city and IoT planning and investments.

So they're actively soliciting advice and recommendations from citizens and, as their Request for Information says, "...urbanists, technologists, entrepreneurs and visionaries." It's a strategy that asks for citizen engagement and partnerships in a very broad and inclusive way, from re-thinking streets, streetlights and public spaces to creative ways to fund infrastructure investments.

And the city seems willing to shift away from pilot projects and toward full-scale, deployable initiatives that will truly benefit residents. ICT technologies in most instances have already been proven. (For more on that discussion, take a look at the Smart Cities Council's  policy brief on smart infrastructure.)  

Earlier this month the city issued a request for information (RFI)  that sets out the city's positions on the topic, what it hopes to accomplish and how the public can help. An excerpt from the RFI explains, "As we said at the start, this next step starts with you! We want to create a thriving, 21st century city for all, and we can only get there with partners. These sorts of collaborations will enable us to explore how to best turn data, design and tech into public value. So, we want to hear your ideas on how to do this."

As Nigel Jacob of the Boston Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics told statescoop, the pilot projects the city has conducted in the past haven't yielded the anticipated results. The RFI is one step the city is taking to improve its odds and focus on practical, deployable projects that will make a difference. "What we've done have been more localized experiments. I think we're at the point now where we're sort of creating more of a strategic approach to the work. The hope here is to surface a lot of the ecosystem players that are certainly around Boston, but more generally also, so we can take a more long-term view in terms of where we want to be investing."

The next steps
Boston, like so many other cities, has what the RFI describes as a "constrained budget." That is one reason the city is looking to public-private partnerships to accomplish these overall goals:

  • Increase digital access and equity

  • Improve and expand mobility and the flow of people through the city

  • Develop accessible and useful public spaces

  • Deliver exceptional city services

  • Expand constituent engagement

  • Spark business growth

  • Build a platform for learning

While those are the goals listed in the RFI, recommendations for other areas that could be addressed are welcome.


Doug Peeples is an editor of the Smart Cities Council’s publications. The Council publishes the free Smart Cities Readiness Guide, which provides help and advice for crafting a smart cities vision, plan of action and method of tracking progress.



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