Engaging with the City: Urban Studies Capstone Presentations

On Monday, April 23rd and Monday, April 30th, the students of the Urban Studies Capstone course presented their final projects to an audience of their peers, mentors, and distinguished guests, including Dr. S. Atyia Martin, Chief Resilience Officer for the City of Boston, Dennis Carlberg, Sustainability Director at Boston University, J. Brandon Wilson, Executive Director of the Somerville Historic Preservation Commission, Monique Yaptenco, Compliance Coordinator at Boston University, and Brian Creamer, Project Designer for Nitsch Engineering. Over the semester, students worked in groups to create a project relating to current issues in the greater Boston area, using real data and case studies to work towards real solutions. Students utilized principles in theory and practice from all areas of City Planning, Urban Affairs and Public Policy, as their projects served as the culmination of their time in the program. While gaining experience with real-world initiatives and fostering partnerships across the industry, students added an emphasis on the end of their time with BU City Planning and Urban Affairs.

Dr. Madhu Dutta-Koehler, who led the course this semester, said that the capstone projects were designed with the idea that “practice is at the heart of all planning.” As such, Dr. Dutta-Koehler wanted the policy and planning guidelines to be scalable and replicable, so that the students can apply them to multiple situations moving forward. Not only did these projects give students a new arsenal of planning tools, knowledge, and techniques, but also they were able to effectively demonstrate their growth within the program and dedication to the field in front of those who guided them through it.

The first night of presentations focused on the Green Line Extension, the plan to extend the Green Line from Lechmere Station into Medford and Union Square in Somerville. Presentations varied within this topic, beginning with “Union Square: A Union of Plans,” which asked whether current plans and policies enable a sustainable transit oriented development for Union Square. The following group, “Parking and the Green Line Extension” suggested strategies for reducing parking requirements in Somerville in order to convert unused parking spaces into green spaces and housing. Other groups focused on the impact of this project directly on the individuals within Somerville, as “Displacement Mitigation Strategies” did. These students focused on the potential negative effects of the Green Line and ways to combat those effects, as the increased mobility provided by the six new T stops may cause housing prices to rise and displace existing residents. “Next Stop: Better Quality of Life” expressed similar concerns, but ultimately concluded the Green Line Extension would lead to cleaner air, decreased commute times, and an overall improved standard of living for the residents of Somerville.

The second night of presentations shifted towards Greenovate Boston, a city initiative to reduce Boston’s greenhouse gas emissions while engaging with the public about climate change. Half of these presentations examined topics within Greenovate’s campaign, as “Roxbury Urban Agriculture” suggested to increase Boston’s resiliency by converting vacant parcels of land into various urban agriculture sites, leading to increased green space, economic growth, and accessibility to healthy food. “Boston Youth Urban Container Garden” continued the discussion of urban agriculture, and how these implementations can aid underserved youth in the city. The group “Marketing Strategies and Infrastructure Investment around Boston Bicycling” focused on how bicycling factored into

Boston’s climate goals, examining how to increase bicycle use through social media, education, fund allocation, and promotion of special events. Other groups focused on Greenovate’s effectiveness as an initiative, as “Climate Change Communication Strategies” evaluated how well Greenovate truly involves citizens in the city’s climate change action plan and informs residents of the dangers of climate change. “Prioritizing People” suggested ways to improve these communication strategies, questioning Greenovate’s ability to make complicated ideas of climate change and urban affairs clear and accessible to the public.

Each project was followed by a short question and answer session, where audience members probed for more information or suggested improvements on a study. After the presentations, students and guests discussed the content further over coffee and BU City Planning goody bags.