What you can learn from New Urban Mechanics in Boston

The city of Boston has created a radical new department that acts as an urban innovation lab, piloting civic innovations that improve the quality of city services. Details, live examples, operations, and contact information are inside.

What Happened?

The City of Boston established a department of New Urban Mechanics, which leverages technology to build partnerships between the city and outside parties, from entrepreneurs to local businesses. The department is like an urban innovation lab, piloting civic innovations that can improve the quality of city services. And the initiatives are all over the map, from repairing city streets to improving educational outcomes.

Who’s In Charge?

/what-you-can-learn-from-new-urban-mechanics-in-boston/monum-team/The Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics—known as the humorous if not obscene-sounding “MONUM” for short—is led by two co-chairs, Nigel Jacob (far left) and Chris Osgood. Jacob, a former software engineer and emerging-technology advisor to the city, was most recently a fellow at Bennington College’s Center for Advancement of Public Action. Osgood, a Harvard Business School grad, was at City Year before working for the cities of New York and Boston.

How It Works

Residents, entrepreneurs, activists, businesses, and others are urged to contact Jacob and Osgood, and to submit ideas to their department. If the team finds the ideas compelling, the city is able to offer assistance in funding and management of the projects, and can make valuable connections to other government resources and partners. In many ways, MONUM acts as a consultancy, albeit one with an open-door policy.

In fact, it’s worth emphasizing that the department is incredibly transparent for a city agency. The co-chairs have their photos, emails, and phone numbers plastered all over Boston, and the pair rapidly respond to inquiries and ideas.

Examples, Please?

The department helped create and launch a mobile app called Citizens Connect, through which residents can inform the Public Works Department about potholes, broken streetlights, graffiti, damaged signs, and other items in need of repair. MONUM worked closely with the Public Works group before launching the app, so that response times would be rapid—sometimes within 24 hours.

MONUM is also unveiling Street Bump, a mobile app that collects data about the smoothness of your ride as you drive through city streets; the app informs city departments of major road problems. The data is also displayed on an interactive map, so commuters can see where major “bumps” have been recorded by other drivers.

Action Items

Details on NOMUM can be found at their official Web site.

You can also download the mobile apps launched by MONUM, including Citizens Connect and Street Bump.

If you’d like to talk with the co-chairs of New Urban Mechanics, contact:

By the way, Boston is not the only city that has introduced innovation offices or initiatives. New York has established Change By Us, San Francisco has created SF Better Streets, and other cities have developed similar initiatives.

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