A Year in Reflection, 2020 in Review

1. Knox, the cargo e-trike

The Environment Department released the City’s Climate Action Plan update in October 2019. We wanted to explore a prototype that aligned with that commitment. One thing the plan calls for is reducing municipal carbon emissions. The City’s “Central Fleet” of vehicles accounts for roughly 25 percent of our local government emissions. So we wondered a few things: If we added a cargo electric-assist trike to the fleet, would employees want to use it instead of a car or truck? How would residents perceive the City’s use of the cargo e-trike to reduce our emissions?

Photo by Robin Glauser on Unsplash

2. Digital Transparency in the Public Realm (DTPR) Signage for Sensors

How can we inform the public about the sensors and data-gathering devices which are located in public space?

  • The technology used
  • Who is accountable for the project outcomes
  • What happens to the collected data
Photo credit: Kris Carter

3. TreeTect

Can we use very high-resolution satellite imagery to support and enhance our tree inventory?

4. Digital Curbs

Should the city invest in creating a digital curb regulation layer and how can it improve city operations and minimize public frustrations with parking?

5. The Public Space Invitational 2020

What happens to Public Space Invitational in a time when our interactions with public space are so different?

JennyMae Kho + Brianna Asbury
Napoleon Jones-Henderson, Chanel Thervil, Brianna Asbury, Marcos Beleche, JennyMae Kho distributing plants at El Jardín de la Amistad in Roxbury
Photo by Waldemar Brandt on Unsplash

6. Boston Food Access Network

How might we leverage a network strategy for community food resilience?

Illustration Credit: Wandy Pascoal, Pat Falco

7. Future-Decker

What is the relationship that past or current residents have with triple-deckers? What gaps can this form and scale of housing attempt to fill in our current housing landscape?

Photo Credit: Yifan Lu

8. Office of Food Access Chatbot

Is a simple SMS chatbot a helpful communications platform for the city to consider during a social emergency such as a pandemic? Will residents like interacting with this SMS chatbot more than leaving a voicemail and not knowing if anyone listens to their message? Does the nightly data pull from the chatbot ease the operational burden on OFA in delivering food to residents?

Photo Credit: Olivia Yao

9. Welcoming Spaces for Recovery

How might we create welcoming, connective and creative spaces for people navigating substance use disorders and housing insecurity? What gaps and opportunities exist in our current design of these spaces? What does the recovery ecosystem look like in Boston’s future?

  • Exploring and experimenting creative approaches to developing welcoming spaces for folks to build agency, develop trust and find delight
  • the Long Island Recovery Campus
  • the Future Engagement Center
  • and other projects in the queue
The Engagement Center, Photo Credit: Olivia Yao
  • Consider using strengths-based language to reframe and de-stigmatize substance use disorder (SUD) in your personal and professional life. Here is a resource from Recovery Services to start: Reflect, Respect: A Prevention Language Guide (spanish version).
Sample SWOT Analysis tool — TechBoston Academy, Credit: Scott Muhlstein, Aaron Zaubi

10. Civic Adventures in 2020

How do we better listen to the civic interests and priorities of young people in Boston? Where are there spaces for authentic connection with City staff working on projects of interest to Boston’s youth? How can we better support young people on their civic adventures?

Screenshots of student worksheets for exploring the Student Action Portal, a prototype website to support youth-led civics projects. Credit: Scout Labs
  • How might the city more accurately value youth
    behavior, ex., playfulness, subversion, indifference, etc.,
    as civic engagement?
  • How are schools practicing civic engagement? How are
    they teaching it?
  • High school students and city staff have different expectations and working styles that require scaffolding to ensure meaningful collaboration
  • There is a disconnect between what students are taught via a “civics curriculum” (that is, they are mostly taught about the federal government and about voting once they are 18) and the levers of power for many of their interests (namely, at the local level and separate from the specific silo of elections)
Credit: Scott Muhlstein, Aaron Zaubi

Covid-19 Efforts

We’re always working to support, amplify, and further the work of our partner departments, and that was no different as the pandemic unfolded in Boston. In the early days, we aimed to be extra pairs of hands and ears to our colleagues who were responding directly to the crisis from the front lines.

Illustration credit: Sabrina Dorsainvil

Summer Fellow Projects

We hosted our first virtual Summer Fellowship this summer, which taught us a great deal about trying to virtually recreate “hallway run-ins” and the importance of having a long list of prompts for our daily stand-ups. Our cohort of seven civic adventurers rose to the challenge, supporting projects on the ground and in the digital realm. With additional gratitude to the departments that hosted our fellows, we thank:

To Our Academic Collaborators

You helped us ask new questions. You pushed us to consider new perspectives. You brought inspiration and energy to our explorations. In 2020, we really needed those extra boosts. Thank you to all of our collaborators affiliated with institutions of learning, who put up with more than their fair share of Zoom headaches with us:

Looking Ahead

We can’t know what the rest of 2021 will bring, but we commit to meeting it with creativity, honesty, and justice. If you have an idea you want to explore with us this year, drop us a line at newurbanmechanics@boston.gov.



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

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New Urban Mechanics

New Urban Mechanics


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