The future of smart cities has arrived, courtesy of citizens and their phones. To prove it, Daniel T. O’Brien explains the transformative insights gleaned from years researching Boston’s 311 reporting system, a sophisticated city management tool that has revolutionized how ordinary Bostonians use and maintain public spaces. Through its phone service, mobile app, website, and Twitter account, 311 catalogues complaints about potholes, broken street lights, graffiti, litter, vandalism, and other issues that are no one citizen’s responsibility but affect everyone’s quality of life. The Urban Commons offers a pioneering model of what modern digital data and technology can do for cities like Boston that seek both prosperous growth and sustainability.
Analyzing a rich trove of data, O’Brien discovers why certain neighborhoods embrace the idea of custodianship and willingly invest their time to monitor the city’s common environments and infrastructure. On the government’s side of the equation, he identifies best practices for implementing civic technologies that engage citizens, for deploying public services in collaborative ways, and for utilizing the data generated by these efforts.
Boston’s 311 system has narrowed the gap between residents and their communities, and between constituents and local leaders. The result, O’Brien shows, has been the creation of more effective policy and practices that reinvigorate the way citizens and city governments approach their mutual interests. By unpacking when, why, and how the 311 system has worked for Boston, The Urban Commons reveals the power and potential of this innovative system, and the lessons learned that other cities can adapt.
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About the Author
Daniel T. O’Brien is Associate Professor in the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University and Co-Director of the Boston Area Research Initiative, based at Northeastern and Harvard universities.
Table of Contents
Part I The Field of Urban Informatics
1 A Data-Driven Approach to Urban Science and Policy 25
2 "Seeing" the City through "Big Data" 56
Part II Maintenance of the Urban Commons
3 Caring for One's Territory 93
4 Division of Labor in the Commons 121
Part III Government in the Age of Civic Tech
5 Partnering with the Public 153
6 Experiments in Coproduction 176
Part IV Digital Divides in Urban Informatics
7 Extending 311 across Massachusetts 203
8 Whither the Community? 230
Conclusion: The Future of the Urban Commons 250
Appendix A Neighborhood Audits 271
Appendix B Reliability Estimates for 311-Based Indicators 277
Appendix C Models Using Survey Variables to Predict Custodianship 281
Appendix D Models Testing Division of Labor 289
Appendix E Models Testing Transparency Messages in BOS:311 295
Appendix F Models for Evaluation of Commonwealth Connect 297