Students in the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University complete their degree requirements by participating in a group capstone project in conjunction with and in service to a public or nonprofit sector partner. These projects are research based and client oriented analyses, which, in the end, are applied by the client to the issue at hand. Projects typically focus on problems that clients want to address but which they neither have the time nor resources to pursue given other priorities. Areas of focus range broadly, encompassing issues of urban and regional policy (e.g., transit oriented development, housing, and sustainability), social policy (e.g., workforce development, community services, urban education, health), and public and nonprofit sector management (e.g., strategic planning, budgeting, program evaluation).
Students work in 3-5 person teams over the course of 15 weeks, supervised by faculty in the School, and conclude with presentations to clients, faculty, and fellow students. Project teams are comprised of students in masters programs in Urban and Regional Policy, Public Policy, Public Administration, and Urban Informatics who will have had core training in policy analysis, research methods, statistics, and, to varying degrees, more specialized skills (e.g., cost/benefit analysis, program evaluation, data visualization, survey research, GIS).
Developing a housing plan at Morton Street Crossing
Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corporation, Dorchester
The objective of this Capstone project was to create an innovative and comprehensive development proposal that would address the needs of Codman Square NeighborhoodDevelopment Corporation (CSNDC). Together, in collaboration with graduate students from Boston Architectural College, the group envisioned a mixed-use, mixed-income development with 35 affordable housing units at Morton Street Crossing on the Mattapan/Dorchester line. Their proposal scored a second place award at the 16th annual Affordable Housing Development Competition. “I was really impressed with the work they did, and I was really happy to see them excited,” said Vitalia Shklovsky, project manager at CSNDC. “Because they’re so new, it was really helpful to have them do so much work, especially in the community outreach piece. It was valuable on the company perspective to have that insight, basically free work, and building relationships with the students who will be entering the field.”
Co-Creating Innovative Public Collaboration In Cambridge
Cambridge City Council
City councilors in Cambridge, Massachusetts, expressed interested in using new information technologies and other creative strategies to deepen citizen engagement with government. A Northeastern capstone team examined the use of “co-creation” tools such as social media and smart phone apps in cities that recently implemented such strategies: Boston, Portland, Oregon, and Palo Alto, California. The team assessed the tools implemented, strengths and weaknesses of the respective strategies, and concluded with an initial set of lessons for Cambridge to consider as it moves forward with its co-creation planning.
Expanding Pedestrian Access Across the Lynnway: Unlocking the Potential of Lynn’s Waterfront
Office of Economic Development, City of Lynn
The City of Lynn, north of Boston, adopted a waterfront master plan for the future commercial, industrial, and residential development of a long underutilized zone. The Plan envisioned a vibrant waterfront connected to the rest of the City and identified the Lynnway, a limited access highway, as an impediment to a “walkable” urban space. The Northeastern team analyzed the challenge of connecting the waterfront to the City and explored alternatives to improving pedestrian access at major points identified by city officials. Those options ranged from suppressing a portion of the highway to utilizing traffic calming measures. Case studies of the alternatives were compiled and assessed, and the team provided a menu of options for City officials to consider in seeking funding through national and regional sources.
Analyzing the Impact of Community Gardens in Boston
Boston Natural Areas Network
In this project, a capstone team explored the dynamics of food access as it relates to community gardens in Boston. The team mapped the spatial distribution of community gardens, and spaces for potential new gardens, as well as the location of various types of food stores, fast food restaurants, and other services. The team established that not all community gardens serve the immediate residents of the neighborhoods in which they are located, that areas identified as “food deserts” have fewer community gardens, and that the mere presence of community gardens has little apparent impact on crime. Recommendations included the need for a more comprehensive analysis of who benefits from community gardens, the development of new community gardens in areas identified as “food deserts,” and more research to assess resident perceptions about community gardens and community safety.
Community Gardens and the Boston Food Environment: A Spatial Analysis
The Boston Natural Areas Network
The Boston Natural Areas Network (BNAN) has played a major role in the development of community gardens in Boston, and owns 59 community gardens throughout the city. Through its Boston is Growing Gardens (BIGG) initiative BNAN has sought in recent years to double the number of plots in its Dorchester community gardens. Both to support this effort, and to better understand whether urban agricultural production is meeting the needs of communities underserved by retail fresh produce outlets, BNAN sought the help of a MURP student group to analyze food access in Boston. Using Geographic Information Systems, students developed a methodology for identifying food deserts and applied it to Boston. Their analysis identified several food desert areas, notably parts of Mattapan, that do not yet have many gardens. Their report made recommendations regarding future areas to target for the expansion of community gardens, and about garden membership requirements intended to broaden access to fresh food for community residents who currently lack such access.
Enhancing Creative East Dedham: Strategies for Implementing the East Dedham Village Charette
East Dedham has the most racially and ethnically diverse population and the youngest residents in Dedham. However, the area has the lowest average household median income in Dedham and an aging housing stock due to a recent lack of investment. In order to reverse this trend the Town of Dedham, along with many members of the East Dedham community, participated in a charrette process in April 2013. Participants in this process expressed a desire to foster the creative economy in East Dedham as a way to attract young creative industry professionals who would be interested in living and working there. For this capstone project, students developed recommendations for implementing the ideas put forth in the charette report, and specifically for the application of Arts Overlay Zoning in East Dedham. Arts Overlay Zoning is intended to encourage the development of a vibrant, mixed use environment that allows and enables artistic production. The group researched existing conditions in East Dedham, and examined case studies of creative economy development in similar communities. They also interviewed officials and representatives of community organizations, and held a public forum in which they gained input from the community. The resulting report contained recommendations regarding the creation of the Arts Overlay District, as well as measures to build organizational capacity, and ideas about urban design and marketing of the area.