A return to analog

New Urban Mechanics
5 min readJan 23, 2023

New Urban Mechanics’ 2022 Year in Review

Editor’s note: As ever, this is an incomplete highlight reel of some of our current work. It goes without saying that none of this would be possible without our communities, partners, and collaborators. Thank you all for your trust in us and the collective work.

We see our prototypes as labors of love, acts of kindness done collaboratively with our neighbors and partners. That’s you! In 2022, we covered a lot of ground together — physical and metaphorical. We collaborated with local designer and illustrator (and MassArt grad!) Lou Whiting to create a set of printed postcards, which we’re delighted to share digitally here. We hope our reflections will serve as an invitation for you to engage in some civic organizing, continue building community, be inspired to start something new, or just take a moment to pause and celebrate all the good work that happened in 2022.

With gratitude, we remain —

Your friends,
The Mechanics

Block Parties + Block Party Kits

This prototype was done in partnership with the Boston Transportation Department, the Department of Innovation and Technology, the Office of Civic Organizing, 311, and Culture House.

Want to take civic action? Host a block party. We improved permitting, outlined the new steps online, supported staff to guide residents through the new process, and offered Block Party Kits to make festivity planning easier.

Send us a photo of a Block Party you host in your neighborhood!

Rethinking Curb Extensions

This prototype was done in partnership with Director of Green Infrastructure, Kate England; the Streets Cabinet; the Boston Transportation Department; and the Public Improvement Commission

We worked with the Streets Cabinet to develop design alternatives to the standard materials that are used in new sidewalk construction. This recently implemented policy will enable new rain gardens, plantings, porous pavement, and other more stormwater-absorbent solutions on Boston’s streets.

Are you interested in helping to care for green infrastructure in your neighborhood? Get in touch with us and stay tuned!

Compost, Not Trash: the official song of community composting

This prototype was done in partnership with Doctor Wonder (aka Cliff Notez) and Deluxe Bandit (aka Will Dailey); the Public Works Department, the Boston Public Library, Katharine Walsh at Boston Public Schools Facilities Management, and the Environment Department

Can an earworm of a song help the real worms in the soil? Working with local recording artists Dr. Wonder and Deluxe Bandito we put together a song and lyric video to accompany the expansion of the Community Compost Bins as we move towards being a zero-waste city.

Feeling inspired? Use the Community Compost Bins in your neighborhood or join the curbside compost program waitlist.

Growing in Boston

This prototype was done in partnership with the Office of Food Justice; GrowBoston; Haley House; Eastie Farms; The Food Project; Round Table Inc.; Roots, Berries, and Goodies; and the Boston Housing Authority

Last year, the Office of Food Justice and GrowBoston supported the construction of over 270 raised garden beds across the City. We celebrated their work, and that of our community partners and urban farmers, through an event with the Boston Housing Authority.

Want to dig in? Get to know the urban farms in your neighborhood and go visit them!

Public Space Invitational 2022: Experiments for a Green New Deal Neighborhood

This prototype is being done in partnership with Boston Centers for Youth and Families, Boston Public Schools, The Trustees, and TD Bank

Since 2014, we have crowdsourced ideas to make Boston’s public spaces more delightful, intuitive, and beautiful through our annual civic design competition. This year, we asked applicants: how can we introduce Bostonians of all ages to green infrastructure in playful, tangible ways that spark curiosity?

Want to see for yourself? Visit a green infrastructure installation at the branch libraries in East Boston or Roxbury.

Co-designed!: A Food Justice Mural

This prototype is being done in partnership with The Mayor’s Office of Food Justice, The Mayor’s Office of Arts & Culture, Harbor Health Services, The Asian American Resource Workshop, Artist Ngoc-Tran Vu, pantry users, and community members

We are co-designing a food justice mural at the Harbor Health Services Food Pantry in lower Dorchester. We’re collaborating with food pantry users, community members, Harbor Health staff, the Asian American Resource Workshop, the Office of Food Justice and our commissioned artist Ngoc-Tran Vu.

What would you want to contribute to this mural? Add your words, pictures, or thoughts and send them to us!

Mail suggestions and/or artwork to:
1 City Hall Square Room 804
Boston, MA 02201

Co-creating Boston’s Future-Decker

This prototype is being done in partnership with the Boston Society for Architecture and the Mayor’s Office of Housing

This two-phased competition invites individuals and teams to propose new housing that can be built on small sites by drawing inspiration from the triple-decker. Two sites have been selected for Phase 2.

Have thoughts on the future of triple-deckers? Share them through the survey on our website!

Celebrating Native American Heritage Month (NAHM)

This prototype was done in partnership with the Massachusett Tribe, Nipmuc Tribe, Equity and Inclusion Cabinet, the Department of Information and Technology, the Operations Cabinet, and City Archaeology. Photograph courtesy of Scott Foster Photography

We supported the burning of a traditional canoe, called a mishoon, by members from the Massachusett Tribe and Nipmuc Tribe. Mishoon-burning requires 24/7 watch and can take anywhere from 10 to 14 days to complete.

Want to learn more? Research and educate yourself on Indigenous history where you live.

Surveillance, Data, and Privacy Working Group

This prototype was done in partnership with the ACLU of Massachusetts, Student Immigrant Movement, the Department of Innovation and Technology, and the Mayor’s Office

The Working Group brought together advocates and City of Boston technologists to grow transparency around data collection in public spaces; build channels to listen to residents’ thoughts on data collection, privacy, and surveillance; and increase the City’s accountability around surveillance practices.

How’d we do? Let us know what you think at surveillance@boston.gov.

Areaways: Why Boston Can’t Have Nice Things

This prototype is being done in partnership with the Disabilities Commission, the Public Works Department, Inspectional Services Department, the Public Improvement Commission, the Law Department, the Office of Neighborhood Services, the Boston Transportation Department, the Boston Planning & Development Agency, and the Downtown Business Improvement District

Many downtown sidewalks are the roofs of the abutting buildings’ basements — a.k.a. areaways! The City can’t meet its commitment to build 1,600 curb ramps a year by avoiding areaways. To crack this Catch-22, we’ve been doing legal research, building a map of areaways, and creating an interdepartmental conversation.

Know an areaway? Email the address to us: newurbanmechanics@boston.gov

We’re excited to greet 2023 and get into the nuts and bolts of civic prototyping. Will you join us? We’re available online at newurbanmechanics@boston.gov and on the phone at 617–635–0044.

Signing off,
The Mechanics

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New Urban Mechanics

The Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics is Boston's Civic R&D Lab / Incubator.