Cindy Noe, a 2017 Summer Fellow with the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, is a a dual MBA and Master in Public Administration candidate at MIT Sloan and Harvard Kennedy School.
To me, the most important part of public service is that first word: “public.” Yet in the four years I spent working for the federal government, that “public” felt very far away. I found the work meaningful and important, but over those four years I rarely interacted with the people and the communities I was supposedly serving. My entire life, I have been driven by the second most important part of public service: the “service” part. So, last summer, I was eager to serve the public more directly by working for the City of Boston.
As a dual business and public policy student, I am constantly looking for intersections between the public and private sectors, whether in user-centric design, innovation processes, or performance metrics. At the same time, it drives me nuts when people say we should “run government like we run businesses,” or that “the public sector has a lot to learn from the private sector.” It’s much more nuanced than that. Contrary to popular belief, business does not have all the answers.
When I was offered a fellowship with the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics (MONUM), I felt like I hit the jackpot — a research and development team employing the best techniques from business, academia, and government — all to serve the most important customer: the public. I came to MONUM to learn how to research, design, and iterate solutions to serve Boston’s residents, and my project is allowing me to do just that.
Last summer, I worked on all things heat. That is, “extreme heat,” or the warmer temperatures we experience each summer in Boston as a result of climate change. Each year in the U.S., more people die in heat waves than all other natural disasters combined. This particular effect of climate change has a disproportionate effect on the City’s most vulnerable residents. Specifically, adults over 65, low-income residents who can’t afford air conditioning, young children, and those with chronic illnesses or on certain medications are most at risk. And to top it off, Boston is a textbook example of the Urban Heat Island Effect, in which urban areas with dark building materials, limited open space, and high population density can be as much as 22°F hotter than surrounding rural areas.
In a joint project between MONUM, Climate Ready Boston, and the Mayor’s Office of Resilience and Racial Equity, I worked to answer a key question: how can we make vulnerable residents more aware of extreme heat and help them stay safe?
As I looked for the answer, I’m tried to challenge the way that the City typically engages with residents about weather and health emergencies. During Boston winters, the City goes all out. It launches a “winter in Boston” webpage, it arms its 311 call center volunteers with the latest information on parking and plowing, and it sends out email after tweet after press release of the latest snow updates. For extreme heat, I worked with the City to employ some of these same tactics, but I’m also asking: what does it look like if we meet the residents where they are?
You see, the vulnerable residents I focused on who are most affected by the heat are also some of the groups who engage the least with official City communications. And that means that even if we prepare all the usual channels with heat information and resources, these residents may never see it. So last summer, I got advice on some other, more creative ways to reach these populations.
One of my favorite ideas that I’ll share here is a new quiz game I’m calling “Heat Wave,” which I played with several groups of elder adults this week and next. (Side note: special thanks goes to Holland-Dozier-Holland and Martha Reeves and the Vandellas for my game’s theme song). In my research on extreme heat, I’ve learned all sorts of interesting and surprising facts. I think sharing these facts and recommendations for how to cope with heat in a fun, engaging way can motivate behavior change and help elder adults and other residents stay safe.
Below I’m including a few sample questions so you can test your knowledge and get a preview of the game.
Without air conditioning, how much hotter can it get inside your home or apartment compared to outside?
Answer: Indoor temperatures can be up to 20°F than outside during a heat wave!
How long do you need to be in an air conditioned place to help your body stay cooler when you go back into the heat?
- Less than an hour
- A few hours
- All day
Answer: Even just a few hours in an air conditioned place can help your body regulate its temperature better and stay cool.
What drinks should you cut back on in the heat?
- Alcoholic and caffeinated
- Carbonated beverages
- Hot beverages
Answer: Avoid alcoholic and caffeinated beverages, which dehydrate your body. Drink water to stay hydrated even if you are not thirsty.
How much cooler is a place that is shaded than somewhere not shaded?
- 10° — 35°F
- 20° — 45°F
- 30° — 55°F
Answer: A shaded place can be anywhere from 20° — 45°F cooler than a place in direct sunlight. When you are outside on a hot day, try not to stay directly in the sun.