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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.    

Experiential Learning and Immersion in the Community

The projects are research-based and client-oriented analyses, which, in the end, are applied by the client to the issue at hand. 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 teams of three to five people 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).

Spring 2021

Client: Boston Art Commission, City of Boston

Students: Matthew Capone, Daniela Lacal, Larissa Morikawa, and Zachary Horine

Abstract: 

In recent years, the racial justice movement and the indigenous rights movement have contributed to an increase in controversy in an already fraught environment surrounding public art’s role in shaping community identity and achieving representativeness. In response, the Boston Art Commission has entered a period of reconsideration of its public art collection and art commission processes, policies, and practices through the lens of equity and decolonization. For this project, students analyzed organizational practices and compared them to those of other entities commissioning public art, to determine to what extent the Boston Art Commission is meeting its goals of ‘decolonization’ and equity in public art. Team members then developed policy recommendations to further improve upon the Boston Art Commission’s objectives towards maintaining a public art collection and making art/artist selections that are representative of local communities and groups.

Client: Boston Public Schools, Office of English Learners

Students: Ge Bai, Nayely Hurtado, and Meghan Ryan

Abstract:

In the United States school districts are federally mandated to annually assess English learning among non-native speakers to ensure that non-native speakers are identified and provided sufficient resources to access a meaningful and equitable education. This project evaluated English language attainment through an analysis WIDA ACCESS assessment scores of English Learners (ELs) in Boston Public Schools between 2017 and 2020. This analysis is intended to help BPS and the Office of English Learners gain a better understanding of students’ English learning, to enable informed decision-making for future programs and policies for English Learners in BPS.

Client: MassDevelopment

Students: Alexsandra Galanis, Jillian Reynolds, and Sebastian Zapata

Abstract:

Balfour Riverwalk Park is a 3.1-acre park with some existing amenities located in downtown Attleboro, MA. Although this open space asset is centrally located, it is underutilized and previous reimagination plans have never been realized. The goal of this project was to assist MassDevelopment with creating activation strategies to grow the daily use of the space, enhance the park’s vibrancy, and increase community programming. For this project, students conducted research on existing parks, disseminated and analyzed results from an original community survey, interviewed community members and key stakeholders, and examined the current conditions of the park to propose recommendations for future revitalization efforts.

Client: Mayors Institute on City Design, City of Muskegon, Michigan

Students: Kavya Balaji, George King, and Boming Zhu

Abstract:

Jackson Hill is a predominantly black neighborhood on the edge of downtown Muskegon, Michigan with almost half of the residents living below the poverty line. The current condition of the neighborhood, including the vacant lots, lack of commercial options, and isolation from the rest of the city, is largely influenced by an urban renewal project in the 1960s.

Despite recent disinvestment, Jackson Hill is composed of a passionate, vibrant, and close-knit community with a dedication to education and social services. The “Investing in Equity” capstone team assisted the City of Muskegon by proposing recommendations that will be referenced in the city’s updated Master Plan and will build on the strengths of the neighborhood. The recommendations celebrate, strengthen, and invest in Jackson Hill’s rich history and collective identity, ensuring the residents of the neighborhood feel heard and recognized.

Client: Northeastern University and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University COVID-19 Research Group

Students: Dylan Holck, Mengyuan Liu, Priyanka Shejwal, and Lisbeth Pimentel

Abstract:

The Northeastern University and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University COVID-19 Research Group engaged the COVID-19 Capstone team to gather, code, and analyze qualitative data during the second wave of their social capital and pandemic resiliency research. The Capstone team interviewed Boston and New York City residents to learn of the participation pool’s personal challenges, behavioral changes, and the role of their social ties during the COVID-19 pandemic. The research revealed prominent themes related to social capital, such as the increased prevalence of virtual social fatigue and the loss of bridging social capital. The team developed a report proposing considerations for the third wave of their client’s research as well as social-capital-driven recommendations for the mitigation of pandemics and disasters in the future.

Client: Road to Responsibility, Inc.

Students: Ryan Fullam, Shi Li, Kaitlin Miller, and Shaikh Abdullah Al-Khalifa

Abstract:

Road to Responsibility is one of the largest organizations of its kind in Massachusetts, seeking to provide remote support services for residents within its facilities. In an industry with personnel shortages and high turnover rates of direct service providers, RTR looks to cut 10-20% FTE on overnight shifts and transition to a remote support model of service delivery. In addition to looking at budget advantages, we also researched ethics and quality of care concerns. This shift to remote support service is relatively new and mostly unregulated in Massachusetts but research from “early adopter” states shows promising results.

Client: New Lynn Coalition

Students: James English and Georgia Hamilton

Client: Environmental League of Massachusetts

Students: Cecilia Bolon, Chris Klem, Melinda Medina, and Shannon Walsh

Abstract:

Within the next decade, approximately one third of coal, nuclear, and oil-fired power plants in New England will be decommissioned. While there is huge potential for renewable energy like offshore wind to replace this aging fossil fuel infrastructure, this energy transition could reinforce and reproduce existing injustices if equity is not centered in new energy practices and policies. This project aims to analyze power plant closures with a justice-oriented lens by identifying what challenges communities face when a local power plant is decommissioned. This analysis, which includes an examination of state-level energy transition policies from across the United States and a case study from Somerset, MA, informs policy recommendations around how best to support communities through the decommissioning process. This project also includes an interactive mapping tool that illustrates the current polluting power plants in New England and allows users to examine environmental, demographic, and public health indicators in the surrounding communities.

Client: Office of Sustainability, Northeastern University

Students: Allison Deyo, Yasmina Estepe, Aubrey Thomas, and Yuan Ji

Abstract:

Northeastern University’s Office of Sustainability is updating NU’s 2010 Climate Action Plan through a campus-wide inclusive process to be known as the Climate Justice Action Plan (CJAP). In preparation of this initiative, the Office enlisted our Capstone team to provide recommendations on how to execute a broad engagement program that will ensure involvement of the Northeastern community. Our team interviewed internal Northeastern University stakeholders and researched community engagement plans from other universities and municipalities. Our findings resulted in five key recommendations: 1) Maintain transparency and build a trusting relationship with the communities, 2) Leverage widely used social media platforms to engage students, faculty and staff, 3) Connect regularly with the leaders of each student group and faculty/staff department on the planning process, 4) Partner with the internal Northeastern community and work together to include the external community in the planning process, and 5) Reward and incentivize participation.

Client: The American City Coalition

Students: Sophia Desir, David Scheckel, and Julia Vasta

Abstract:

This report examines the housing landscape in Boston and the social and economic impacts that large anchor institutions have on their neighboring communities. We conducted quantitative data analyses and mapped trends connected to gentrification and the rise in investor ownership of homes in the city. Our research also includes an in-depth analysis of Northeastern’s community benefits programs that comprise its PILOT payments to the city. We detail a number of policy recommendations for the City of Boston, Northeastern, and our client, The American City Coalition. We recommend taking a unified approach to strengthening tenants’ rights, providing innovative housing solutions, and empowering residents to strategically negotiate with large institutions in their neighborhoods. We conclude with observations on the unique window of opportunity that anchor institutions and neighboring residents have to renegotiate their roles and relationship to one another as Boston undergoes a change in leadership in 2021.

Previous Projects

Fall 2020

Client: The Emerald Necklace Conservancy

Students: Sarah Langer, Andrea Patton, Anna Demina

Arborway Yards is an 18-acre site in Jamaica Plain that is the largest piece of under-developed, underutilized land along the historic Emerald Necklace Park system.  The site is currently split over three parcels—an MBTA bus maintenance facility, an MBTA-owned office building, and a City of Boston owned lot.  Plans have proposed redevelopment of the site for a variety of uses, including affordable and supportive housing, services for the homeless, and commercial and office space.  For this project, students are reviewing past planning efforts, current uses, space requirements for potential uses of the site, and the plans of current occupants of the site, to provide options and recommendations for future development.

Client: The American City Coalition

Students: Helen Hemley, Elizabeth Biskar, Dylan Ricker, Lin Zhai

Roxbury is surrounded by and adjacent to several large colleges and universities such as Northeastern, Wentworth, MassArt, and more. Most Roxbury residents are renters in this majority Black and Brown, and low-income community. Consequently, the large student population in and around Roxbury has significant ramifications on residents’ ability to secure stable housing and live comfortably and affordably. For this project, students are conducting research and proposing effective policies to ameliorate the impacts of off-campus students, including those from Northeastern University, on Roxbury’s housing market.  Methods include a review of institutional master plans, analysis of datasets on the rental market, and interviews with Roxbury community members and key stakeholders.

Client: Town of Winthrop

Students: Conor McGee, Annie Duong, Meng Du

For this project, students are assisting the Town of Winthrop in tracking metrics data with its departments to inform the FY22 budget process and related management decisions. The Town does not have a centralized process in place for gathering this information. Moreover, while the Town has technology to communicate performance metric data to the community, it does not have a centralized place or tracking system for this data that it can pull from to create charts, graphs, and other helpful visuals for the Town. The goal of this project is to assist the Town in enhance reporting of organization-wide and departmental goals and metrics in annual budget and for regular usage during the year. Students are reviewing departmental goals and metrics, working with each department to develop a system for gathering and reporting data to inform metrics set forth in budget, assessing whether progress on FY21 goals or appropriateness of budget metrics have been impacted by COVID-19, and making recommendations for communicating goals and metrics in annual budget documents.

Client: Re+Connect

Students: Karl Zenowich, Xin Shu, Stella Jordan, Yaritza DeJesus

Re+Connect is a non-profit organization that develops information and knowledge management solutions to boost disaster resilience through a connected ecosystem of people and data.  They are currently engaging community groups, disaster management and aid organizations, researchers, and entrepreneurs in Puerto Rico in building a volunteer-powered community mapping solution for disaster management.  Students in this group exploring models for how to deploy participatory community mapping to strengthen disaster resilience and overcome the current barriers that prevent the inclusion of local knowledge and information in disaster management.  Research tasks include analysis of stakeholders in disaster management and their data needs, and compilation of best practices on community-based data collection.

Client: Aldrich Resilience Lab

Students: Ziyue Chen, Lucy Hewitt, Matthew Cherkerzian

After disasters, policymakers regularly rely on recovery policy ideas and feedback from advisory committees at the city, state, and national level. The membership of these committees can affect recovery dramatically. Committees with more engineers, for example, might support infrastructural recovery over community-focused recovery, while members who sit on multiple committees might spread recovery policy ideas to other cities and states. This capstone compiles a list of disaster recovery committees that were involved in recovery after Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Harvey, gathering a dataset of committee and member traits. Team members are then analyzing these committees to identify any overlapping committee members, using statistics, qualitative case studies, and/or social network analysis as able.

Capstones, Spring 2020

Team Members: Randall Gilbert, John Lovett, Alexandra Sullivan-Muniz

Client: Marjorie Greville, Emerald Necklace Conservancy

This team worked with the Emerald Necklace Conservancy in Boston to develop recommendations on the relocation of the Shattuck Hospital from its current site in Jamaica Plain to other potential near-by sites. 

View Presentation

Team Members: Nicholas Hersey, Alex Poniatowski, Haoran Zheng

Clients: Professor Daniel Aldrich and Timothy Fraser

This team examined economic recovery strategies applied in Louisiana Parishes (Counties) after Hurricane Katrina, to explore how varying hard (infrastructure), soft (community-based social), state, and local investment strategies enabled the parishes to become more resilient.

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Team Members: Ashley Armand, Kathryn DeRobertis, Alexander Tappan

Clients: Prof. Daniel Aldrich and Prof. Ester Villalonga Olives, University of Maryland

This team worked with Professor Daniel Aldrich at Northeastern, and with Professor Ester Villalonga Olives of the University of Maryland, to assist in assessing, through a literature search, how varying interventions enabled refugees to become more resilient and cohesive in their communities.

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Team Members: Nicholas Gallegos, Benjamin Hoffman, Josephine Susa

Clients: Jacob Glickel, Office of Campus Planning and Real Estate; Victoria Spies, Campus Planning and Development

This team worked with Northeastern University planners to assess the viability of expanding alternative mobility options on Northeastern’s Boston campus.

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Team Members: Elizabeth Harrington, Larry Hibbler, Jianchi Xu, David Nardelli

Clients: Thomas Callahan and Symone Crawford, Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance

This team explored first-time home ownership programs in the Greater Boston area and developed recommendations to better enable first-generation home ownership through a program with the Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance.

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Team Members: Aileen McGrory, Sky Olander, Conor Simao

Clients: Elizabeth Ennen, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Services; Gordon Shaw, Community Legal Aid

This team worked with a Law School faculty member and the Supreme Judicial Court to assess barriers to recruiting and meeting the needs of attorneys providing pro bono legal services in Massachusetts.

Team Members: Aseem Vikas, Deodhar James Nee, Hannah Silbert, Fuyang Sun

Clients: Clients: Bill Bochnak and Meaghen Hamill, City of Lynn

This team worked with planners, advocates, and other stake-holders in Lynn, Massachusetts, to develop recommendations for amenities associated with bicycle pathways on the Northern Strand, Community Trail, Lynn Commons, Cultural District, and Nahant Beach.

Miscellaneous Projects

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.”

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.