The future of smart cities has arrived, courtesy of citizens and their phones. To prove it, Daniel T. O’Brien explains the transformative insights gleaned from years researching Boston’s 311 reporting system, a sophisticated city management tool that has revolutionized how ordinary Bostonians use and maintain public spaces. Through its phone service, mobile app, website, and Twitter account, 311 catalogues complaints about potholes, broken street lights, graffiti, litter, vandalism, and other issues that are no one citizen’s responsibility but affect everyone’s quality of life. The Urban Commons offers a pioneering model of what modern digital data and technology can do for cities like Boston that seek both prosperous growth and sustainability.
Analyzing a rich trove of data, O’Brien discovers why certain neighborhoods embrace the idea of custodianship and willingly invest their time to monitor the city’s common environments and infrastructure. On the government’s side of the equation, he identifies best practices for implementing civic technologies that engage citizens, for deploying public services in collaborative ways, and for utilizing the data generated by these efforts.
Boston’s 311 system has narrowed the gap between residents and their communities, and between constituents and local leaders. The result, O’Brien shows, has been the creation of more effective policy and practices that reinvigorate the way citizens and city governments approach their mutual interests. By unpacking when, why, and how the 311 system has worked for Boston, The Urban Commons reveals the power and potential of this innovative system, and the lessons learned that other cities can adapt.
This is one of the first studies of changing urban structure through the lens of new media and a major contribution to our understanding of the contemporary city.
The use of data and technology to address problems of cities is undergoing a revolution thanks to an unlikely convergence of academics, local governments, businesses, technologists, and civic organizations. Dan O’Brien’s book gives us a timely, balanced, and optimistic assessment of this rising field of urban informatics and smart cities.
Dan O’Brien’s The Urban Commons provides a refreshing deep dive into the new world of urban informatics and the art of getting things done in the Information Age. It isn’t about the data, it’s about people. And it’s about how new information technologies empower all of us to understand and improve the common goods we share in the places we love.
In The Urban Commons, Daniel O’Brien shows how the torrent of contemporary data—what many call ‘big data’—has the potential to reshape our understanding of how cities work. Setting aside hype in favor of rigor, the book takes the reader on a deep exploration of Boston’s innovative efforts to give citizens a role in governance through technology, especially its 311 system for reporting everything from potholes to squalid living conditions. O’Brien’s analysis of the voluminous data produced by this technology provides new insights on how public spaces are maintained, and his case study of Boston has broad implications for civic partnerships between cities and universities to rebuild communities. The Urban Commons will be of wide interest to all those concerned with the future of cities.
During the past decade, opportunities to use new data sources and technologies to understand cities have generated enthusiasm across disciplines, with policymakers, in industry, and even among city residents. Dan O’Brien represents a new generation of scientists whose native tongue is fully digital. He applies a keen eye to look beneath the surface of these data sources not simply to provide a calibrated analysis of 311 but to demonstrate an approach to understanding a broad range of urban data sources.
- 2019, Winner of the Dennis Judd Best Book Award
- 368 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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