August 12, 2016

Field Notes: Summer of Placemaking in Boston

Field Notes: Summer of Placemaking in Boston

Summer 2016 has been a good one for public space enthusiasts and placemakers in Boston. With a new funding mechanism available for community-based projects, two placemaking competitions awarded, and the new citywide cultural plan Boston Creates released, this summer brought more than sunshine to New England. Here are the latest developments in the placemaking field in Boston. I hope these initiatives inspire new ideas for your city or town!

Second Public Space Invitational

On July 6th, Boston City Hall awarded its second Public Space Invitational (PSI) –an ideas competition that invited the public to “reimagine Boston’s public spaces.”  Participants were asked to submit proposals in response to three challenges: an analog intervention, a digital intervention and a bonus challenge called Rethinking Mattapan Station. This year’s seven winners will receive financial and technical support to implement their projects. PSI is led by the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, the Boston Art Commission and the City’s Street Cabinet.  Besides supporting innovative public realm projects, the initiative serves as a platform to help city staff better understand unique challenges in the implementation of different public space projects and inform future streamlining of the application process for public realm projects.  Everyone wins! The first and last PSI was launched 2 years ago, so it was a big deal when the City released a Call for Proposals last April.

Urban Innovation Festival

Hosted by the Boston Design Museum, the Urban Innovation Festival was a three-day series of workshops that brought together ten multi-disciplinary teams and the general public to develop proposals for improving the connection and user experience in the underpass of Interstate-93. The elevated highway (I-93) currently fragments Boston’s urban fabric, creating a spatial and visual barrier between the neighborhoods of South End and South Boston. During the last weekend of July, the event occupied a parking lot under I-93, right in the area of study. Way-finding and creative lighting were popular strategies explored by the ten final proposals. In addition to the design teams, over 300 people attended the event, gave feedback to the teams and voted for their favorite proposal.  Congratulations to the winning team, Fidelity Lab!

Open Newbury Street

On August 7th The Office of Neighborhood Services hosted an Open Newbury Street,the first of its kind in Downtown Boston. Newbury Street is a vibrant commercial corridor in Downtown Boston, famous for its wide offer of restaurants, coffee shops and clothing stores. The event primarily focused on eliminating vehicular traffic in the stretch of Newbury Street between Berkley Street and Massachusetts Avenue.

Applications Open:

Do you need financial assistance for a community-oriented intervention in the state of Massachusetts? MassDevelopment may have good news for you. Commonwealth Places is a new funding source to finance community-based projects in Massachusetts, available to the public sector and nonprofit organizations.  The platform combines crowdfunding and match funding. Applicants submit online applications to Commonwealth Places. Applications are screened and selected based on how well they meet the platform’s criteria. MassDevelopment then help selected applicants to set up a crowdfunding campaign using Patrocity, a crowdfunding platform. If the applicant’s crowdfunding target is met within 60 days, MassDevelopment matches dollar-to-dollar the amount fundraised. You can find more information about the program here, including the program’s guidelines, eligibility map and an online application form.

About the Author: Irene is joining A Better City (ABC), a nonprofit organization committed to improve the quality of life and economic competitiveness of the greater Boston area through transportation, land development and environmental initiatives. Along with ABC and the Boston Transportation Department, Irene will work on conceptual design case studies and implementation strategies to introduce creative public realm planning into transportation projects in the city. She will also examine regional trends and identify locations for future initiatives.

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