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Streetscape Innovation Fund

Through this $1 million fund, we experimented with new ways of designing and equipping City streets.

The City created the fun in July 2012. It has has already helped support ten experiments on City streets.

Why we did this

Each year, the City of Boston spends more than $200 million on:

  • renovating new
  • re-paving City streets
  • planting street trees
  • improving school buildings, and
  • hundreds of other core infrastructure investments.
Departments don't often experiment

There is great interest among departments in experimenting with new ways to do that work. But, there’s also pressure to do what we've always done. Why? Because it’s fast, and we know what the costs will be. That pressure usually trumps new experiments. Working with the Budget office, we wanted to create a way to give departments the ability to experiment.

The experiment

Our hypothesis? We can encourage departments to try new ways of doing things by creating a separate fund for that purpose.

In the Fiscal Year 2013 budget, we worked with the Budget Office to create the Streetscape Innovation Fund. This $1 million fund supported departments who had interesting ideas for change, but could not pursue them in their existing budget.

To source these ideas, we met with staff from a variety of departments, including:

Departments could pitch us their ideas. We would work with them on a series of experiments that varied in scale and approach. We are committed to evaluating the impact of each investment so that it can inform future capital decisions.

Results and the lessons learned

Fund-supported projects, as a whole, have been quite successful, and include:

  • City Hall To Go
  • LED Street Name Signs
  • Northern Avenue Bridge
  • Parklets
  • Project Oscar
  • Pulse of the City
  • Smart Parking
  • Street Bump
  • Time-To-Destination Signage, and
  • Vehicle Side Guards.

Also, had they gone forward, the fund would have supported the Fire Box and Street light outage projects.

It always takes time...

In a pattern we've seen before, it took time to build the pipeline of projects. It also took time to generate many of the ideas. Given their experimental nature, we often faced challenges relating to procurement and borrowing laws.

One of the initial intents of the fund was to present experiments in a way that residents could easily see and offer feedback on. So far we have not done that. As a result, we've had a harder time than we expected to find research partners to analyze the impact of each effort.