Perhaps most indicative of the necessity for a technological revamp in the city of Boston—aside from the paper dependency that reigned during former mayor Thomas M. Menino’s time in office—is the fact that cassette tapes are still used to record major government meetings. With one year under his belt, Mayor Martin J. Walsh, WCAS ’09, plans to move the city into the 21st century with a new emphasis on the implementation of real-time data and technological systems to aid in the efficiency of government processes.
The new technologically-driven agenda, the Walsh administration hopes, will help serve some of the larger goals for the city: an improved housing system, increased economic opportunity across neighborhoods, elimination of superfluous government information and practices, and an improved education system (including a campaign promise to increase prekindergarten opportunities so that all 4-year-olds have the chance to attend by 2018). More generally, Walsh explained in an interview with The Boston Globe, the digitization of Boston is intended to make it “the first 21st-century city in America.”
As of now, the plan for achieving larger, more profound influences in education and economic opportunity in Boston by way of digitalization has yet to be clearly defined. Walsh has, however, set forth a series of methods of utilizing data systems and technological devices in order to increase the efficiency of Boston’s city workforce, comprised of over 18,000 employees working across 20 departments.
The necessity to do so was reinforced by Walsh’s chief of staff, Daniel Koh. “A huge priority needs to be on digitizing and bringing into the 21st century all of our systems,” he said in an interview with The Boston Herald. “I find myself in certain situations throughout the day where some of the technology that we use is impeding my ability to do my job.”
The new, real-time data systems—the idea for which stems from Harvard- and MIT-educated municipal officials who place their trust in this system—provide information on all pertinent action in Boston, including the tabulation of shootings, building permits, and everything in between. A screen has been set up in Walsh’s office in order to track and present visually the various neighborhoods of Boston that he has visited in the past 30 days. Public works crews in Boston are now outfitted with smartphones, and they send pictures of themselves as well as their completed project to residents in the immediate area.
These are not the first forms of technology and modernity that Walsh has introduced to the city of Boston. In September, he launched SolarSystem Boston, a new map of the city that outlines for each resident the solar energy potential and installation costs for each individual roof. Walsh hopes that the availability of this information will serve to accelerate the transition to solar energy as well as help Boston to achieve its goal of installing 25 megawatts of solar by 2020.
Earlier this month, the Walsh administration announced that the Boston Public Library would begin to offer a wider range of technology to library users citywide, including pay-for-print kiosks, desktop software upgrades with Windows 7 and Microsoft Office, and high-tech multifunction printers, copiers, and scanners. Public libraries around Boston will offer increased allotted computer time, updated browsers such as Google Chrome and Internet Explorer, and software such as Adobe Reader, iTunes, QuickTime, and others.
Walsh also announced that the city’s hotline will be switching from a traditional 10-digit telephone number to 311, which is more typical of urban centers. Walsh hopes to facilitate the use of this system with an initiative called “Street Cred,” in which citizens are rewarded with points for volunteering or reporting problems that need the city’s attention, like a pothole, broken street light, or vandalism.
In the implementation of all of these initiatives, Walsh says he plans to go to the state for funding. Boston’s move into the 21st century, Walsh argues, is crucial and will be marked by tangible progress. “I can make all the announcements that I want and have all the speeches at the Chamber of Commerce and the State of the City and talk about my vision and great plans,” Walsh said in an interview with The Globe. “But it is really making sure that we follow through on them. If we truly want to make that jump from the 20th to 21st century … we have to hit benchmarks.”
Featured Image – AP Photo / Steven Senne