Have you ever stepped into a pile of icy slush on a Boston city sidewalk and almost slipped? Or walked out into the street to avoid trash bags that blocked a sidewalk? These annoyances may only be a minor inconvenience for some, but for others with a wheelchair or scooter these icy or blocked sidewalks can prevent them from leaving home. Thankfully, the Boston Public Works Department (PWD) works hard to keep Boston streets safe, clean, and accessible for all residents.
Improving City Code Enforcement to Promote Cleaner and Safer Streets
As students in DPI-663, a Harvard Kennedy School field class on Technology and Innovation in Government, we are partnering with the City of Boston and its Public Works Department to improve how residents and landlords experience code enforcement. What is code enforcement, you ask? Code, in this context, isn’t C++ or Python; rather, it’s state and city laws that ensures access to safe and clean sidewalks and streets for all residents.
For example, the City of Boston requires residents and landlords to shovel snow from sidewalks and to properly dispose of trash. To enforce these laws, sixteen Code Enforcement Police Officers patrol the City of Boston daily on foot and by car.
Nearly half of code enforcement violation tickets go unpaid, and many residents don’t understand what constitutes a violation. The City of Boston has begun addressing these issues, working with another team of Harvard students last semester to study the end-to-end ticketing process. The City has also published guidelines about what constitutes a violation and how to pay a ticket, and even has a 311 app to allow residents to report service requests. Yet, many residents remain unaware of these resources. There is a great opportunity to improve residents’ awareness of these laws, while also making the ticketing and appeals processes clearer and accessible to residents.
Throughout the semester we are working with Daniel Lesser, Director of Strategic Initiatives; Brian Coughlin, Assistant Superintendent of Waste Reduction; and Steve Tankle, Director of Code Enforcement. Together, we will support them in spurring behavior change among residents, resulting in fewer tickets given and more tickets paid.
Our student team brings diverse perspectives from domestic and international experience in government, for-profit, and non-profit work:
Clare Herceg is a first year MBA student at MIT Sloan who is passionate about employing cross-sector collaboration to tackle social issues. She has seven years of experience scaling, funding, and evaluating programs serving youth within the U.S. and abroad. Most recently she was the Director of Strategic Initiatives at First Place for Youth, an organization providing housing, education, and employment supports to foster youth. There she launched the organization’s national affiliate network, helping secure partnerships with government and nonprofit partners in the first three states outside California.
Naeha Rashid is a second year Master’s in Public Policy student at the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) who has worked at the intersection of financial inclusion, social entrepreneurship and technology for the last few years. She is passionate about helping improve the quality and character of people’s lives. Before coming to HKS, Naeha worked for CGAP — a member of the World Bank Group — leading her team’s work in Pakistan to catalyze innovation and scaling of digital financial services. She was also a core member of the startup team for Karandaaz Pakistan (an organization funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) from 2014-16, and was a 2018 Summer Associate with Ashoka’s Global Social Financial Services team.
Ariana Soto is a junior at Harvard College studying Government with a minor in Computer Science. She is passionate about the intersection of technology and government and its capacity to do good. This summer, she interned at the New York Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics. In 2017, Ariana was an intern through the inaugural DataLA Summer Academy with the Los Angeles Mayor’s Data Team. Ariana serves as Project Manager of Coding it Forward, a nonprofit that inspires and empowers students with technology skills to create social impact in fields like healthcare, education, nonprofit, and public service.
Elyse Voegeli is a data analyst and designer focusing her HKS degree on the intersection of tech and public policy. Before HKS, she worked for 4 years as the program manager of the Tufts Labor Lab, conducting impact evaluations of human rights programs in global clothing factories. While at HKS she’s developed a passion for human-centered design and has taken coursework in data visualization, behavioral economics, and design. She combines her years of research experience and passion for visual art for a user-first approach to technology and design solutions.
Clarisa Yerovi is a Fulbright scholar and Master of Public Policy student at HKS. Prior to Harvard, she worked in the Peruvian government for 4 years focusing on cross-functional coordination, transportation infrastructure, and university reform. She is interested in how governments can work better and have a better relationship with citizens through technology. She is also currently on the boards of the Latin American Caucus at HKS and the Harvard-wide Association of Peruvian students.
Listening to Residents and Landlords
Over the next few weeks our team will find ways to listen to residents and landlords to hear their stories. We will ask questions like: “Do you know why you received this ticket? What are you going to do with it? Will you appeal it? Do you know what your responsibilities are as a landlord or as a tenant to keep the city safe and clean?” We will also seek to understand how people navigate the ticket payment process.
We will also accompany Code Enforcement Police as they patrol their routes, and attend an Appeals Court Hearing to learn more about the process Boston residents face if they contest a code violation ticket. Building on the research from the past Harvard class and best practices from other cities across the country, we are excited to dig in!
Have you recently received a code violation in Boston or know someone who has? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to share your perspective with our team!
Clare Herceg, Naeha Rashid, Ariana Soto, Elyse Voegeli, & Clarisa Yerovi