Cities have been using data in various forms for decades – taxes, social services, healthcare, crime – but using big data for improving civic operations is relatively new.

Almost every object in a city can now be fitted with a sensor or GPS, which can be used to gather additional layers of information as well as allowing the devices to interact with each other and respond in real time – an infrastructure practice to truly make the city “smarter.”

Most major cities now have a smart city plan, with different cities at various different stages of implementation. To kick off the Convene Smart City series, we take a look at how technology is transforming Boston.

Why Boston is more than just a “Smart City”

Boston was one the first cities to launch experimental smart initiatives in 2010. Led by then Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, the vision for city was to be a host for innovation, rather than having innovation just come from research firms or universities. Mayor Menino would come to identify Boston’s Seaport as the Innovation District, and became the first official US city among 80 innovation districts around the world.

Over the last five years, the dedicated, 1000 acre waterfront campus has already added over 5000 new jobs and has facilitated the creation of over 200 new companies. Leading companies work and collaborate with start-ups, business incubators and accelerators, bringing together the best leaders in business and the best minds in academia to socialize, experiment, and innovate.

Smarter Apps

One of the government-led programs in Boston’s “smart masterplan” focuses on participatory urbanism – which is encouraging more citizen involvement in their community via technology.

The App Showcase is a collection of apps for citizens to leverage, where they can report service problems (think potholes or graffiti), receive parking information and support, get updates on street conditions, and even communication with each other.

The city’s flagship app is the award-winning BOS:311, a tool that “deputizes” local residents by allowing them to report potholes, graffiti and other issues from anywhere in the city. Where’s My School Bus even allows parents to track their child’s school bus. Another great technology-meets-community initiative is “Participatory Chinatown,” a video-game simulation which engages the local community to be more easily involved in planning and development conversations, especially for those who typically cannot because of language or socioeconomic barriers.

Smarter Transportation

With Boston’s population on the rise, new commercial zones have begun to emerge outside of Boston’s traditional city center. Public transportation has not yet evolved along with these new employment districts, leading residents with insufficient access and support for all of the new job opportunities that are being created.

As a response, the mayor’s office developed the Go Boston 2030 campaign, with a multi-pronged action plan to address the transportation imbalance that includes both public and private challenges.

The centerpiece of the plan is focused on Neighborhood Mobility microHUBs. These digital kiosks will soon be placed throughout the city and surrounding area to help people make informed decisions about a range of efficient public transit options, including buses, trains, bike-shares, car-shares, and more. Rolling out over the next several years, the microHUBs provide real-time data to empower residents to make smarter transportation decisions.

Smart sensors are another key piece of technology poised to link to microHUBs and improve transportation efficiency. Networked traffic signals are being introduced in highly congested districts such as South Boston Waterfront, Sullivan Square and the Bulfinch Triangle, and will ease delays by responding intelligently to flows by automatically controlling the timing of the traffic lights. The traffic management center has even partnered with Waze to supplement its own live feeds to better respond to real-time conditions.  Outside of the city core, high-occupancy interstate lanes and the city’s new Consolidated Smart Shuttle System will better cater to public transit, shared riders and carpools via license-plate-scanning technology.

To stay ahead of the curve, Boston is also putting together a more progressive autonomous vehicle (AV) policy. The positive implications for Boston’s AV ridesharing are endless – from less automotive deaths and lower emissions to the reduction of private vehicle ownership and less of a need for public parking spaces. This allows Boston to increase the flexibility of public spaces – more sidewalk dining, bike lanes and even affordable housing are now possible. The city is also partnering with local businesses to explore how autonomous vehicle programs and infrastructure can also improve safety, navigation (GPS currently has challenges getting to the last 30 feet) as well as sustainability to ensure that access is available for all residents, regardless of their income level.

It’s Time to Plan Your Next Meeting or Event in Boston

Beyond Boston’s commitment to its citizens and to democratizing technology, the city is also extremely welcoming to multi-day business travelers as well! If you have not considered Boston as your next destination conference, townhall, or training in Boston yet, check out the many reasons why you should. For larger events, consider hosting at Seaport, in the heart of Boston’s innovation district. For small and medium-sized events, we hope you now consider Convene at One Boston Place, located in the center of the Financial District with amazing terrace views of the harbor and the skyline!

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