We are excited for our upcoming BARI Conference 2021: Building Back Smarter, beginning on April 30th, 2021. It also marks BARI’s 10th anniversary! Over the last ten years, BARI’s annual conference has become a unique forum for sharing how greater Boston’s civic data community is advancing a more equitable, just, and democratic society–and setting an agenda for what we need to do now. In 2021 this mission is more critical than ever. As we build back from a crippling pandemic and grapple with revelations of racial injustice and inequities, we want to highlight efforts where data and technology are catalyzing our recovery as we look toward the future. We invite you to attend this conference and participate in the conversations addressing how we work on an equitable recovery for Boston and cities alike.
The conference will occur over four consecutive Fridays 4/30, 5/7, 5/14 & 5/21, 9:15 am – 12 pm, where each panel will be presented as a live webcast, which will also be released as a podcast episode the following week. Register for the conference today!
Friday, April 30
View this conversation between Robert DeLeo, former Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives and University Fellow at Northeastern University, and Adrian Walker, Columnist at The Boston Globe.
The conversation will follow a series of lightning talks on the various impacts of COVID-19 on greater Boston:
Kimberly D. Lucas, MetroLab Network. Closer to Home: COVID-19 and Changing Child Care Preferences
Abstract: COVID-19 added new challenges to balancing work and home life. Sponsored by the Mayor’s Office of Women’s Advancement, we conducted focus groups and interviews with parents/guardians from across the City of Boston during Summer 2020. Two findings from our research: (1) experiences and needs of families regarding their children are quite distinct when comparing those who work from home versus those who must return to their worksites, and (2) the worries and fears produced by living during a global pandemic, combined with the changes (or lack thereof) in employment, created new enough conditions to change child care preferences from pre-COVID conditions. Families highlighted new priorities when considering both whether and what type of child care they felt comfortable bringing their children to. Findings have implications for COVID recovery policies and plans, as well as for the use of different frames and techniques in future studies of child care demand.
Russell K. Schutt, University of Massachusetts Boston. The COVID-19 Catch-22: Avoiding Infection, Increasing Depression
Abstract: The COVID-19 pandemic forced difficult choices between reducing risk of exposure and preserving economic well-being. This classic “pandemic paradox” exacerbated economic disparities, but evidence that it has also worsened disparities in mental health has been mixed. Using a survey of a representative sample of 1,626 Boston residents, we replicate previous findings of disparities in economic suffering but also identify a different “COVID-19 catch-22”: behaviors that reduced infection risk increased mental health risk. Those working from home, minimizing social contacts outside the home, and relying on remote communication—largely White workers with college degrees—preserved their income, but also suffered more of a decline in mental health. Retired persons largely escaped this catch-22. More worry about infection, more drinking, and less exercise were associated with more decline in mental health. Our conclusions emphasize social connection as the explanatory linchpin for understanding the social strains created by the pandemic.
Astraea Augsberger, Boston University School of Social Work. COVID-19 Shines a Light on Health Inequities for Communities of Color in the Greater Boston Area: A Youth-led Photovoice Inquiry
Abstract: This presentation describes the work of young leaders engaged in health equity and health systems change. In June 2020, Boston University School of Social Work partnered with Boston Medical Center Family Medicine to convene a Youth Advisory Board (YAB). As part of their work, 5 of 8 YAB members used Photovoice to examine the question: “what does health or healthiness mean to you and/or your community?” Using the SHOWed method, YAB members shared their photos, critically analyzing them in the context of their lived experience to capture their larger narrative. They identified COVID-19 as “a revealing force that highlights systemic inequities, driving individuals and communities to both cultivate their resilience and take healthcare into their own hands in response to government or policy level failures.” Findings underscore the need to elevate the voices of youth of color in the policy realm, particularly regarding policies impacting healthcare and health risk communication.
Mariana Sarango Cancel, Boston Public Health Commission. Less Healthcare When It Is Most Needed: Inequities in mental healthcare avoidance due to COVID-19 in Boston, MA
Abstract: Approximately 25% of U.S. adults have avoided medical care due to COVID-19 concern (Czeisler et al., 2020); less is known about mental health care avoidance. We seek to estimate the prevalence of Boston residents who avoided mental health services due to COVID-19 and to identify racial or other inequities. We use data from the COVID-19 Health Equity Survey, a follow-up survey of the 2017 and 2019 Boston Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System surveys. We found that approximately 10% of Boston residents have avoided mental health services due to COVID-19. Greater proportions of Black and Latinx, female, less formally educated, out of work residents, and those with poorer self-rated health and mental health reported avoiding mental health services. COVID-19 has had a detrimental impact on mental health among the general population, but our findings suggest that some groups are more likely to have experienced interruptions to mental health care. Novel, culturally-appropriate mental healthcare delivery approaches may help reduce the impacts of COVID-19 as a barrier.
Erica Kangas, Dough. Towards Equitable Ecommerce; Dough’s Approach to Leveling the Playing Field
Abstract: As we continue to address the multitude of crises stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, just two of the many issues we face include rebuilding a hard-hit economy and working to mitigate the disproportionate impact the pandemic has had on women, and especially women of color. More specifically, we know that small women-owned businesses have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and are less likely to expect a strong recovery.
Dough is a Boston-based startup with a mission to drive purchase power to women-owned businesses. This presentation will describe the impact of the pandemic on women-owned businesses, with an emphasis on Dough’s founder community, a diverse group of women leading small business ventures. Additionally, we will provide a brief summary on solutions towards more equitable commerce and some preliminary outcomes from our work at Dough.
Taylor Patskanick, Massachusetts Institute of Technology AgeLab. A Day in the Life: Exploring Risk and Resilience among a Sample of the Active “Oldest Old” during the COVID-19 Pandemic
Abstract: People ages 85 and older remain high risk for serious illness, hospitalization or death when infected with COVID-19. Questions arise around how communities can best support the over-85 demographic during circumstances presented by the pandemic. In March 2020, MIT AgeLab researchers began conducting a series of weekly telephone interviews and fielded several online surveys with the MIT AgeLab 85+ Lifestyle Leaders Panel to better understand how this population has been impacted by COVID-19. Findings suggest the pandemic has changed the timing of many later life transitions and events, has made many of the Lifestyle Leaders feel a greater sense of mortality and vulnerability, and has shifted social network size and the sources of resources and support for the Lifestyle Leaders. Findings from this study suggest that community-based research with the 85+ can strengthen the ability to identify need, risk factors and strengths during crisis events.
Kathryn Carlson, Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston, Harvard Kennedy School. Massachusetts Food Access during COVID-19: The importance of qualitative methodology in policy development & implementation
Abstract: Massachusetts Food Access during COVID
In order to best organize the public and private resources rallying to help the food insecure during the COVID-19 pandemic, we needed a user-centered approach to understanding the obstacles to food access in Greater Boston, one that incorporated the perspectives of the wide range of household types that may experience food insecurity and one that was nimble enough to inform policy and implementation decisions in real-time as the health emergency and its downstream impacts evolved. To do this We implemented a longitudinal survey of sixty Massachusetts households, speaking with each participant weekly from May through August 2020.
The goals of this study were two-fold:
1. To gather data that could improve the delivery of services in real-time during the COVID crisis response in the Spring/Summer 2020 by government and community leaders.
2. To collect and disseminate stories that would motivate and focus on government and community action.
Roy Wada, Boston Public Health Commission, The Role of Long-Term Care Facility in the Racial/Ethnic Disparity in COVID-19 Mortality Risk in the Boston Neighborhoods
Abstract: As a highly contagious disease, COVID-19 has had an especially devasting impact on our most vulnerable residents due to known risk factors including chronic disease and older age. Long term care facilities (LTCFs) provide housing and a variety of services, both medical and personal care, to people who are unable to live independently. By design, LTCFs congregate higher risk individuals and, not surprisingly, have been associated with higher COVID-19 mortality risk in Boston. City COVID-19 case data suggest higher proportions of White residents living within LTCFs. Due to the differences in geographic location and resident makeup, LTCFs are suspected of having a major role in differential COVID-19 mortality risk across racial/ethnic groups in Boston. After adjusting for LTCF, racial/ethnic differences in COVID-19-related morality may be significantly higher when comparing Black residents to White residents in the city of Boston. Though Latinx residents have experienced a higher COVID-19 case rate, the Latinx COVID-19 unadjusted mortality rate is lower compared with White residents. Given their younger age as a population group, Latinx residents could have experienced disproportionately higher mortality compared with White residents after adjusting for LTCF and age differences. We, therefore, examine the roles of LTCFs (including location) and age in the COVID-19
View the panel How Do We Build When We Build Back here.
Moderator: Dan Rivera, President & CEO, Mass Development; Former Mayor of Lawrence, MA
Kathryn Tomsho, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Evaluating environmental health data communication to participants of a Boston-area indoor air quality study
Abstract: Exposure to environmental hazards, such as drinking water contaminants or air pollutants are ubiquitous in the modern era 1–3. Often, the scientific approaches and tools needed for contaminant detection require scientific expertise beyond that of the average citizen 4. This expertise requirement creates an information gap in the awareness and ability to identify and avoid environmental exposures 4,5.
Reporting back exposure assessment research results to participants is a potential avenue for addressing this information gap 6–10. This information can provide insight to participants about their exposures and suggested actions to reduce future exposures.
We describe efforts to create an evaluation framework for a report-back effort in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Our framework includes considerations of communication and data equity via enhanced accessibility of materials and distribution. Success was measured on four fronts: participant engagement, communication of key information, motivation to act, and impact to self-agency to address indoor air exposures.
Philip Eash-Gates, Synapse Energy Economics, Inc. Boston Building Emissions Performance Standard
Abstract: Buildings are responsible for three-quarters of citywide emissions in Boston. The City has committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 and has proposed a building emissions performance standard to address emissions from energy use in existing large- and medium-sized buildings. Synapse Energy Economics performed an in-depth building energy analysis to recommend a policy framework and estimate cost impacts for mandatory greenhouse gas emissions targets by building type that decrease over time. We convened and facilitated discussions with a technical advisory group of 63 experts in building science, architecture, engineering, construction, building operations, energy policy, renewable energy, and affordable housing—spanning 46 leading organizations in the Greater Boston Area. Using extensive building energy and equipment datasets, Synapse prepared policy recommendations, including proposed emissions targets by building type, example compliance strategies, case studies, and compliance cost estimates. Strategies to reduce emissions include retrofitting existing building to be more energy efficient, producing and purchasing renewable energy to power building operations, and switching away from fuels that create greenhouse gas emissions (e.g., electrifying end-uses of energy that rely on combustion of fossil fuels).
We used an in-house building energy performance model to evaluate how the City of Boston can strategically design its building emissions performance standard to cost-effectively meet the 2050 GHG target and interim goals. The model uses raw data from local buildings to prepare a “bottom-up” assessment of all energy consumed and emissions produced through operation of large- and medium-sized buildings within the city. We analyzed a series of scenarios and sensitivities to compare the long-term decarbonization impacts of various policy designs and develop concrete greenhouse gas reduction pathways for Boston’s building stock. The results of this analysis provide an initial framework for the City to consider discrete policy options, identify areas for further analysis, and evaluate concrete next steps towards its 2050 climate goal.
Krissy Govertsen, Northeastern University College of Engineering. Data-Driven Assessment of Thermal Resilience in Boston Using Smart Thermostats
Abstract: Climate change is predicted to increase the severity and frequency of extreme temperature weather-related events. This will expose the existing residential building stock to significantly different climatic conditions compared with today. When these extreme temperatures hit, power demand increases, and generation capacity can be reduced, occasionally causing widespread power outages when communities are most vulnerable. While measures are taken to mitigate power outages, climate adaptation can also be implemented by increasing the communities’ adaptive capacity to overcome this vulnerability to outages. However, assessing current and future vulnerability is a necessary step towards creating climate-resilient housing stock that can safely withstand intermittent and prolonged periods of power outages.
Using available tax parcel, census, and smart thermostat data from the ecobee Donate your Data (DyD) program, this research assesses vulnerability to extreme temperature-related weather conditions. This analysis can inform the existing BARI Boston Research Map to highlight areas of potential vulnerability in the Greater Boston residential building stock. Such a tool could provide vital information such as estimated indoor temperature, time to unsafe indoor temperatures during power outages, and percentage of homes at risk. This information is essential for governing bodies to establish emergency management plans, make real-time decisions, and encourage stricter building codes to provide building stock resilience.
View this panel Innovations in Criminal Justice here.
Moderator: Rev. Jeffrey Brown, Co-Chair, King Boston
Stephanie Hartung, Northeastern University School of Law. Dismantling the Cradle-to-Prison Pipeline: A new resource for advocates and policymakers, and a survey of currently incarcerated people in Massachusetts
Abstract: Our proposed discussion will share a new website created by Northeastern University’s Cradle-to-Prison Pipeline Project, as a resource for advocates and policymakers. It will also share in more detail the preliminary results of a comprehensive jail and prison survey of 300 currently incarcerated people about their youth experiences, designed to collect missing data in support of policy reforms to dismantle the cradle-to-prison pipeline in Massachusetts. In regards to the jail and prison survey, we will contextualize our findings through a discussion of individual lived experiences with incarceration. Northeastern University’s multidisciplinary Cradle-to-Prison Pipeline (“C2P”) Project has worked to build a new holistic model of the entrenched problem of mass incarceration, particularly impacting communities of color, in order to find and support the most effective interventions. This project is a collaboration between various departments within the University to create digital maps of the institutional, legal, and social forces in Massachusetts that push children of color into the criminal justice system at disproportionately high rates. Northeastern’s C2P Project has leveraged the university’s interdisciplinary resources and expertise in data collection, processing, analysis and mapping to identify and support interventions to dismantle the cradle-to-prison pipeline. See www.cradle2prison.info.
Our presentation will focus on the next stages of our C2P work, including sharing the preliminary analysis of our survey results, contextualized by narratives of lived pipeline experiences. The first phase of our research revealed that we are missing crucial data about key markers along the pipeline, such as early childhood involvement with foster care, special education history, disability status, school discipline, and court and police juvenile diversion programs. In response to these gaps in data, we have developed and are currently implementing a comprehensive survey of several hundred incarcerated individuals in Massachusetts focusing on these topics. We will share preliminary results and analysis of our survey data, with an eye toward identifying and supporting key interventions to help dismantle the pipeline.
Melissa Morabito, University Massachusetts Lowell. Examining Proactive and Responsive Outcomes of a Dedicated Co-Responder Team
Abstract: The Boston Police Department (BPD) has adopted a Co-Responder approach to enhance their response to people with mental illnesses residing in the City of Boston. This approach pairs BPD officers with Master’s-level mental health clinicians who respond together to 911 calls for service involving mental health. Due to resource constraints, the BPD does not have a dedicated car to respond to mental health-related calls. This means that while Co-Responding teams can call off on or be dispatched to calls known or suspected to have a mental health component based on nature code or a commonly visited address, they must also respond to more typical calls for service. Using grant funding, the BPD implemented a one-month dedicated Co-Responder car pilot program and collected data about all related encounters. Using these data, we explore the outcomes resulting from this evaluation. First, we discuss the development and implementation of the Co-Response model and dedicated car pilot in Boston. Next, we examine how the Co-Responder team spent its time during the dedicated car pilot program and describe the outcomes of encounters with community members, with a focus on involuntary commitments and evaluations and the factors that predicted this particular outcome. Results indicate that much of the Co-Response work is proactive and that formal dispositions such as involuntary commitment and evaluation are used sparingly. Finally, policy and practice implications are discussed.
Laurie Becker, University Massachusetts Lowell. Police Perceptions of Overdose Outreach Program Effectiveness
Abstract: As the number of fatal opioid overdoses rose exponentially, police departments began to realize that traditional, crime control methods were not working to decrease overdoses. In response, many departments shifted toward a service-centered model of policing, involving home visits to offer services and encourage treatment to individuals who had recently experienced a non-fatal overdose. While these programs are gaining popularity, there is little research regarding how police perceive the effectiveness of these programs. Through a survey of New England officers, this study examines the attitudes police officers hold toward the effectiveness of overdose outreach programs as well as explores which variables serve as significant predictors of these attitudes. Findings show that officers mostly view overdose outreach programs as effective, and eight variables can be used to predict these views. This study’s findings highlight a number of practical implications to increase outreach program support.
Margo Lindauer, Clinical Programs, The Domestic Violence Institute, Northeastern University School of Law. Domestic Violence Prevention & Outcome Assessment During COVID-19 & Beyond
Abstract: The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated already dire conditions for victims of intimate partner abuse and resulted in an increase in victimization in Boston and worldwide. In response, NUSL’s Domestic Violence Institute (DVI) pivoted operations to online and employed new methods for data collection in order to assess outcomes. Prior to 2020, DVI staff gathered information about clients via in person intake, but processes varied depending on who was conducting the intake. In response to COVID-19, the DVI shifted its focus to prioritize digital intake and intervention through an online intake and new website as well as specific custom fields via its case management tool (Clio). This new intake process has made it easier for both service provision (it is now easier for staff to locate information about a client quickly) and research (information can now be cleanly downloaded and analyzed). The added custom fields serve as both a prompt for staff who are gathering information from clients and as a way in which demographic and other information can be data. Information gathered includes type(s) of abuse, lethality, length of abuse, children involved, and court outcomes, in addition to demographic data such as age, race, gender, and zip code. An online intake form was also implemented, where potential DVI clients can fill out a brief online intake and be connected to a DVI staff member within 48 hours. The DVI is uniquely positioned to provide both services to survivors of intimate partner abuse and collect data for the purpose of assessing client outcomes. Through the assessment of case outcomes, DVI staff will be able to more effectively respond to future clients needs and begin to more fully understand the scope of intimate partner abuse in the Boston area as it pertains to DVI clients specifically.
View this panel Dashboards during COVID here.
Moderator: Luc Schuster, Director, Boston Indicators
Brianna Noonan, SomerStat. Somerville COVID-19 Dashboard
Abstract: To inform Somerville residents of the changing COVID-19 prevalence within the City and remain transparent about the effects of COVID-19 on the population, the SomerStat department, along with the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Emergency Operations Center, created a public interactive COVID-19 data dashboard. This dashboard uses data from the Massachusetts Virtual Epidemiologic Network (MAVEN) and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. It allows users to explore geographic and racial differences in the prevalence of COVID-19, and includes contextual data such as a map of the Massachusetts environmental justice indicators. The dashboard is a crucial part of the City’s decision-making process and is presented to the Mayor and reviewed by Emergency Operations leadership on a regular basis.
Alvaro Lima, Boston Planning & Development Agency. Economic Indicators of COVID-19 Recovery
Abstract: The Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) Research Division has created a comprehensive framework of high-frequency data to track the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Boston’s economy, while monitoring the reopening and recovery process in the city. With the assistance of the Analytic Team of the Boston Department of Innovation and Technology (DoIT), BPDA Research has built an interactive dashboard to present the data in an up-to-date and easily visualized format. The dashboard can be found here: http://www.bostonplans.org/research/covid-19-economic-impact-dashboard
Alina Ristea, Boston Area Research Initiative. The Covid in Boston Database and Survey
Abstract: With the onset of COVID, BARI has sought to construct a data-support system for a city during a pandemic–both to serve our local communities and to act as a model for others across the country. The contribution is twofold: (1) creating a database from multiple sources, and (2) creating survey for investigating living in Boston during COVID. In this presentation we describe the data types and possible topics for which the database and survey questions can be combined. The database includes original records, often with enhanced content, and custom aggregate measures (e.g., neighborhood-level metrics), all contextualized within the Boston Data Portal’s broader geographic structure that allows seamless linkage across data sets. The survey captures disparities in the experiences of, attitudes toward, and impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic across the neighborhoods of a city, providing a unique insight into racial and social inequities. We are highlighting the insights from the survey in a series of reports and bite-size data stories.
Friday, May 7
View the panel The Next 10 Years: National Lessons on the Future of Research-Policy Collaboration here.
Moderator: Dan Correa, Acting President, Federation of American Scientists
Elaine Allensworth, Director, University of Chicago Consortium on School Research
Katie Hearn, Director, Detroit Community Technology Project
Karina Castillo, Resilience Coordinator, Miami-Dade County
View the panel Segregation, Integration, and Opportunity here.
Moderator: Tanisha Sullivan, President of NAACP Boston Branch
Zhuangyuan Fan, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Diversity Neighborhood & Street Life: Quantifying Urban Changes and Social Mixing in Boston
Abstract: It is a common perception that built environments have an impact on people’s behavior, and well-designed neighborhood and urban public spaces encourage more social mixing. Here we combined anonymous individual location data, census data, and Google Street View data to estimate the association between changes in the urban environment and level of social mixing. To describe these relationships, we propose three measurements: 1) Street Score, which measures the quality of the perceived built environment; 2) Residential Diversity, which estimates the census-tract-level mix of household income; and 3) Experienced Diversity, a measure of street-level social integration for each street segment over time. We demonstrate that places with initial better appearance have seen less residential diversity and the experienced diversity across space and time. While neighborhoods with improved appearance have seen a further reduction in residential diversity during the past decades, street improvement has different effects on experienced diversity at different times of the day.
Abstract: In the 1930s, the Home Owner’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) drafted neighborhood maps to guide real estate lending decisions. These “redlining” maps codified pervasive structural racism in the housing market, reserving the lowest D ratings for non-white neighborhoods. Recent research suggests that HOLC redlining scaled racist lending practices across the U.S. and channeled billions of federally guaranteed real estate loans into building white affluent neighborhoods while limiting access to credit and residential choices for others. Redlining maps thereby contributed to the sizeable racial/ethnic inequities in access to neighborhood opportunities seen across the US today.
Previous research has examined associations between HOLC redlining, housing, and health in specific areas of the U.S., but it is not clear whether government redlining still shapes neighborhood opportunity and life expectancy for children born in the U.S. today and the Boston metro area in particular.
Using a novel dataset, we find persistent effects of HOLC redlining on present-day life expectancy and children’s access to neighborhood opportunity. Our dataset includes, for every 2010 census tract, the proportion of the tract area covered by A, B, C, and D HOLC ratings, drawing on HOLC maps digitized by the University of Virginia’s Digital Scholarship Lab. We combine these data with 1940 census tract data mapped to 2010 census tracts. Our census tract level outcomes are the Child Opportunity Index 2.0 (diversitydatakids.org) and life expectancy (CDC) measured in 2015.
Our preliminary results show a sizeable effect of redlining on life expectancy and neighborhood opportunity that is robust to adjustment for 1940 census tract neighborhood racial/ethnic composition and socioeconomic status across the U.S. The associations for the Boston metro area, however, appear to deviate from this national pattern, which we will further clarify through spatial and historical analysis. Overall, these findings illustrate the pernicious persistence of structural racism in the present-day geography of opportunity that has resulted from racist government policies at the federal, state, and local levels. Our findings illustrate the culpability and responsibility of the real estate sector for present-day inequalities, having facilitated and profited from opportunity hoarding by white families at the expense of all others.
Luisa Godinez-Puig, Boston University. Immigrants Lead Boston: Working to Build Stronger Civic Engagement with Immigrant Communities
Abstract: Inequality in political participation is endemic in local government, with immigrant groups, in particular often reluctant to engage with local officials. Civic education may be an effective tool at mitigating these disparities by providing critical knowledge about local government functions and enhancing trust in government. Boston University partnered with the Mayor’s Office for Immigrant Advancement to evaluate whether the Immigrants Lead Boston program fostered trust in government and civic engagement in attendants. We surveyed participants before and after the program to measure their leadership skills, political knowledge, and engagement with the city of Boston. In addition, we directly observed program sessions to better understand classroom and participation dynamics. Participants gained trust in Boston’s government, acquired considerable knowledge of city government structure and different City of Boston resources, developed leadership skills, and became more civically engaged. These findings can inform leadership and civic education programs for immigrants.
Michael P. Johnson, University of Massachusetts Boston
Abstract: Housing unaffordability and climate change adversely affect the lives of Boston area residents. These crises are amplified by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and are especially salient for the most vulnerable residents in our community: low- and moderate-income people and people of color. We believe that that these crises can only be addressed successfully if they are addressed together. However, there is not currently an established body of academic research, municipal plans, or an advocacy agenda that addresses both crises in a systematic way. In this presentation, we describe a community-focused problem structuring process that has resulted in a research agenda for the housing and climate crises as it is experienced by vulnerable urban communities. This research agenda is transdisciplinary, equity-focused, centered on the needs of those who are most affected, rooted in empirical and primary analysis, reflects a critical approach and accommodates diverse analytic methods and disciplinary traditions.
View the panel Pursuing Equitable Access to Transportation panel here.
Moderator: Lisa Jacobson, Senior Program Officer, Barr Foundation
Julianna Horiuchi, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. Putting equity first in the MBTA “Forging Ahead” service cuts
Abstract: As many other transit agencies, the MBTA was forced by the shortfall in fare revenue and lack of funding from other sources during the pandemic to consider cutting back transit service. However, given that the remaining riders during the pandemic comprised the essential workforce that relied on our services, it was important that cuts in transit service preserved access and quality of service available to transit critical populations.
We set out to define “essential” services based on two analyses: where there are trips made by transit critical populations, and where we have retained relatively high ridership or anticipate a return in ridership in the near future. Essential services are those that travel many trips by transit critical populations and carry relatively many riders during the pandemic, and these would be identified for minimal disruption in service levels. Other services would be considered for trade-offs depending on budget availability.
The unit of measure for these analyses is a route (e.g. a bus route, a commuter rail line). For each route, we have calculated ridership potential and a transit criticality index. Ridership potential is calculated with a combination of relatively-high pre-pandemic ridership (from September 2019) and a relatively high pandemic ridership retention rate (in September 2020), normalized by the number of service hours provided in order to create measurement units comparable across services. Transit criticality is a travel demand measure (travel not necessarily on MBTA) that captures where low income people, people of color, and people in zero- and low-vehicle households traveled in July and August 2020. The transit criticality index accounts for the multiplicative effect of multiple group membership.
This presentation will describe the process for defining transit criticality in more detail, since it relies on a novel data source for the MBTA (mode-agnostic travel demand and trip-based rather than residential-based coverage), as well as a novel application that needed to create comparable measurements across multiple transit modes.
Anna Gartsman, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. MassDOT/MBTA Employer Panel Surveys
Abstract: As the region recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, MassDOT and the MBTA are trying to address the problem of how we can emerge from the pandemic with a transportation system matching our region’s new transportation needs. We are used to relying on our own sources of data – automated ridership information, rider surveys, travel demand models – but in a time of real disruption, we found ourselves missing information that would tell us when travelers would be likely to return to our roads and transit ahead of it actually happening. One critical group that is likely to have a large impact on travel volumes are the currently-teleworking employees; however, most of the decisions around timing of return are being made by the employers rather than the employees. To determine when teleworking employees are likely to return to the transportation system, MassDOT and the MBTA established a panel of employers to help us gather information about transportation needs in the business community during the COVID-19 pandemic. Using this data source, we are tracking the timeframe and shape of planned return to work by employers in the Boston region including expectations around timing, triggers and motivations for return to work, openness to future telework, and perhaps most importantly, what decisions are currently not being made (e.g. long term real-estate choices). This presentation reviews some of the results from the Employer Panel survey and how they have tracked over the course of the pandemic.
Wendell Joseph, Sasaki Associates, Inc. Uneven Access: Mobility Through the Lens of Equity
Abstract: Years of local activism and advocacy, supported by numerous studies and reports, have collectively spoken to the disparities in mobility experiences throughout Greater Boston. Even with ongoing efforts to address the legacy of discriminatory community development policies and practices, structural inequities persist: many communities still face considerable challenges in how residents move freely, safely, and comfortably.
How can we better explore the intricacies of mobility choices, transit networks, and local experiences to direct investment in ways and places where it might have the greatest impact?
Sasaki and the Sasaki Foundation have created get [t]here, an online story map that explores mobility challenges in Gateway Cities, specifically in Lynn and Malden. With equity as the core value of this project, get [t]here begins to explore how residents currently access local amenities and essential services, what the existing challenges are, and what and where opportunities might be for equitable investment in how they navigate their communities.
View the New Models for Collaboration panel here.
Moderator: Ceasar McDowell, Professor of Civic Design, MIT
Matthew NK Smith, City of Boston. Mobility data as a window into civic data governance: a collaboration between Boston, Montreal, and Lyon
Abstract: Over the course of the last 9 months, representatives from Boston, Montreal, and Lyon have met to discuss the common challenges faced by local government in the rapidly shifting world of mobility data. What began as an open forum facilitated by Michelin’s Movin’ On initiative grew into an ongoing effort to establish shared values and best practices, to gather input from stakeholders in the public and private sectors, and finally to document learnings in a joint manifesto on mobility data. The first two chapters have covered data access and governance, and data rights and privacy respectively, with a forthcoming third chapter tentatively dedicated to regulation and policy.
The project has not only led to learning and positive outcomes for the three cities, but has been valuable as an example of cross-city collaboration, recognizing the similar obstacles encountered across geographies and cultures in a world increasingly driven by data. The focus on mobility data touched on these larger issues of data governance while narrowing the scope toward specific goals and policy ideas. In particular this year of the COVID crisis has opened eyes to the value of mobility data for understanding our connected world and as a tool for cities to monitor public health. But this year and the movement toward racial justice has also highlighted the ethical challenges related to privacy, accountability, transparency, and community engagement that government must contend with when considering this data as a tool.
Nayeli Rodriguez, Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics. Eyes on the Street Re-examined: Centering trust and privacy while collecting data in the public realm
Abstract: In the summer of 2020, the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics embarked on a six-month pilot of Numina sensors to measure the movement patterns and volume of bikes, cars, trucks and pedestrians at three distinct intersections. The primary purpose of this pilot was to understand the impacts of temporary street-level changes that would be implemented to facilitate a safe re-opening in the context of Covid-19. A secondary objective of the project was to evaluate a privacy-oriented solution to data collection in the public realm. We wanted to know: Is it possible to gather useful, usable data on street-level activity using sensors that are lightweight, require minimal power supply, and, importantly, do not contribute to the surveillance of residents?
Today, much of the data collected for transportation planning purposes is generated either manually or from camera footage, which can involve storing visually-identifiable images of faces and license plates. Once collected, this information is often proprietary and users such as city planners must pay regular fees to access it. Rarely does the information become publicly available and accessible to a broader audience. By contrast, this project’s dataset was generated without the collection or storage of sensitive images and will be freely available to the public for download in multiple formats and through a variety of platforms.
After summarizing the project’s design and implementation, MONUM and Numina will jointly present a live exploration of the resulting dataset, revealing how events from the six-month pilot period were reflected in movements on the street. The re-opening of Boston’s restaurants and public parks, protests, the return of students, and a surprise October snowstorm are reflected in observable anomalies and trends in the data. We will conclude the presentation with an invitation to the audience members to explore the data for their own interests, research, and advocacy, and a call for more privacy-centered practices in public realm data collection and data-driven planning.
Julia Kumari Drapkin, ISeeChange. ISeeChange: The climate data platform where local leaders, engineers, and the public build solutions together
Abstract: With user-generated insights and hyperlocal impact data, ISeeChange enables cities and engineers to improve modeling, infrastructure design, emergency preparedness, and public trust through ongoing dialogue with residents on climate risk and resilience.
In major public infrastructure projects, ISeeChange has quadrupled public input, influenced design decisions that have saved clients hundreds of thousands of dollars, and added millions in infrastructure capacity, even in low-income communities. By building collective intelligence, ISeeChange facilitates inclusive adaptation to the world’s biggest changes.
Eric Gordon, Lab at Emerson College. Collaborative Governance Network: The Design of an Urban Living Laboratory in Boston
Abstract: The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the limitations of municipal governments to adequately and effectively deliver public goods and services to those in need. In Boston, mutual aid organizations, neighborhood associations, and other informal groups were able to quickly fill some gaps and coordinate distribution of food, clothing, information, and other essential goods and services. This response, while certainly not without precedent in the United States, reached an extraordinary scale during the pandemic. Much of that scale was achieved through volunteer time and resources, using free tools and technologies such as Facebook groups, Google Forms, and WhatsApp to identify and meet needs. Although local municipalities were largely supportive of such community-based initiatives, existing government mechanisms to support them generally did not exist, leaving municipal governments ineffective at emergency care provision.
Failures of government to collaborate with such community efforts are not, in most cases, matters of politics. Rather, they reveal the substantial limitations of current government structures for enabling innovative practices and programs to emerge and persist.
To address this need, we ran a class at MIT in fall 2020 called the Civic Media CoDesign Studio. Challenges included how the city council conducts its business, how basic media literacy is incorporated into online procedures, and how local aid organizations can effectively share data with government departments. The project orientation structured in the class was formalized and extended as an Urban Living Laboratory (ULL) called the Collaborative Governance Network. Defined simply as an “innovative approach to testing new technologies and strategies to cope with complex social problems,” ULLs are have three peculiarities: 1) collaboration between the public sector, firms, universities, and communities; 2) an experimental methodology; and 3) open innovation, where knowledge can be diffused across stakeholders (Nesti, 2018). With support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the NSF, we are building this ULL in partnership with civic leaders in Boston. Our primary goal for the Collaborative Governance Network is to enable Bostonians, their municipal government, the private sector, and academia to collaboratively design protocols for civic data creation, analysis, and use.