Common SENSES (Standards for ENacting Sensor networks for an Equitable Society) : Community-Led, Science-Driven Climate Resilience in Boston, MA
Lead PI:
Daniel O'Brien

Communities across the world are experiencing a challenging paradox: accelerating development in the context of climate change. Often, the impacts are concentrated in disadvantaged communities, requiring new approaches to pursuing local and equitable solutions to climate resilience. Common SENSES will demonstrate such an approach by integrating cutting-edge science with community priorities in conjunction with a capital redevelopment of Blue Hill Ave. in Boston, MA, a long-neglected thoroughfare running through the heart of the city’s historically Black communities. Networks of sensors installed throughout Blue Hill Ave.’s neighborhoods will measure the threat of environmental hazards, including extreme heat and rainwater flooding, from street to street. These data will be explored collaboratively with community stakeholders in workshops that will culminate in proposals for the placement of green infrastructure (e.g., rain gardens, green roofs) optimized to mitigate hazards in the neighborhood following the redevelopment. The project is a community-city-university partnership between the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI) and Project RIGHT, which serve communities along the Blue Hill Ave. corridor; the City of Boston’s Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics (MONUM); and an interdisciplinary team affiliated with Northeastern University’s Boston Area Research Initiative (BARI).

Common SENSES will make four major advances. (1) It will generate new techniques for modeling sensor data to quantify disparities in hazards from block to block within communities, or microspatial inequities. (2) It will develop new practices and tools for participatory modeling, or the process of generating solutions by placing complex data in the hands of community stakeholders. (3) It will evaluate the impacts that green infrastructure can have on mitigating microspatial inequities in communities. (4) It will demonstrate how sensor networks can be best integrated with community needs and perspectives to have true public impact, something that this emergent technology often lacks. The project will have extensive benefits for the Blue Hill Ave. corridor and will demonstrate a model for similar projects locally and globally. The team will work with the City of Boston to replicate the approach in other projects throughout the greater Boston region. This project will also publish the Common SENSES playbook, a non-academic publication summarizing the insights, tools, and practices developed throughout the project to enable other communities to incorporate in their own pursuit of local solutions to climate resilience.

Daniel O'Brien
Dr. Daniel T. O’Brien is a leader of the burgeoning field of “urban informatics”, which uses modern digital data to better understand and serve local communities. He is Associate Professor in the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs and the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Northeastern University and Director of the Boston Area Research Initiative (BARI), an interuniversity center that is an international model for advancing place-based, civically-engaged research that leverages data to benefit local communities. Dr. O’Brien researches the physical and social conditions of neighborhoods and the citywide systems that serve them, often emphasizing questions of equity. This mission has allowed him to study many different subjects, including crime, education, transportation, climate resilience, public health, and public infrastructure, resulting in 50+ peer-reviewed publications and coverage from multiple media outlets, including Wired, The Boston Globe, and National Public Radio. He has raised $9M for his work, including grants from the National Science Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, and others. His book The Urban Commons (Harvard University Press; 2018) won the American Political Science Association’s Dennis Judd Best Book Award for work on urban and local politics. Dr. O’Brien has designed programs for educating and supporting others in the practice urban informatics. BARI’s annual conference convenes researchers, public officials, community-based organizations, and others engaged in data-driven research and practice in greater Boston. BARI’s Boston Data Portal makes research-ready data describing the people and places of Boston accessible to multiple levels of data literacy, from data scientists to everyday residents. BARI also offers public urban informatics education for community-based organizations and high school students. His textbook, Urban Informatics (Chapman Hall / CRC Press; 2022), which is based on curricula he developed for Northeastern University’s Masters of Science in Urban Informatics, is freely available online.
Performance Period: 10/01/2022 - 09/30/2025
Institution: Northeastern University
Award Number: 2230036