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BARI has worked closely with the Mayor’s Office of New urban Mechanics and the 311 system examine how Bostonians contribute to the maintenance of the public spaces and infrastructure of neighborhoods—that is, custodianship in the urban commons. The project uses the requests for non-government service received by the 311 system to examine when and where people report such issues, and their motivations for doing so. This project has demonstrated that custodianship is largely hyperlocal, anchored by an individual’s home, and driven by territoriality, or our innate tendency to claim and identify with spaces and objects. These insights have led to a number of implications for the design and implementation of 311 systems.

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Jessica Baldwin-Philippi (Fordham University), Eric Gordon (Emerson College), Dan O’Brien (Northeastern University)*, Dietmar Offenhuber (Northeastern University), Melissa Sands (Harvard University) *-Contact:

Data Products:

Annual neighborhood-level measures of custodianship are available through BostonMap. BARI releases a modified version of Boston’s 311 data annually.


  1.  O’Brien, D.T., Offenhuber, D., Baldwin-Philippi, J., Sands, M., & Gordon, E. Uncharted territoriality in coproduction: The motivations for 311 reporting. In press at Journal of Public Administration Research & Theory.
  2. O’Brien, D.T. 2016. Using Small Data to Interpret Big Data: 311 Reports as Individual Contributions to Informal Social Control in Urban Neighborhoods. Social Science Research, 59: 83-96.
  3. O’Brien, D.T. 2016. 311 hotlines, territoriality, and the collaborative maintenance of the urban commons: Examining the intersection of a coproduction policy and evolved human behavior. Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences, 10: 123-141.
  4. O’Brien, D.T. 2015. Custodians and custodianship in urban neighborhoods: A methodology using reports of public issues received by a city’s 311 hotline. Environment & Behavior, 47: 304-327.
  5. O’Brien, D.T., Gordon, E., Philippi-Baldwin, J. 2014. Caring about the community, counteracting disorder: 311 reports of public issues as expressions of territoriality. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 40: 320-330.