The Boston Indicators Project offers new ways to understand Boston and its neighborhoods in a regional, national and global context. It aims to democratize access to information, foster informed public discourse, track progress on shared civic goals, and report on change in 10 sectors: Civic Vitality, Cultural Life and the Arts, the Economy, Education, the Environment, Health, Housing, Public Safety, Technology, and Transportation.
Boston is a city of neighborhoods – some, like Dorchester, Roxbury and Mattapan, are as large as some of Massachusetts’ bigger cities, while others, such as Charlestown, are town-sized. Within each of Boston’s sixteen neighborhoods, designated by the Boston Redevelopment Authority as Boston’s official planning districts, are micro-communities, each with its’ own unique characteristics, populations, assets, and challenges. This cross-cut filter presents neighborhood-level data that makes possible comparisons across neighborhoods, as well as exploration through snap-shots and trends over time.
Diversity augments cultural vitality, increases problem-solving capacity through new skills and perspectives, and strengthens global economic connections. But highly diverse communities often require community-building efforts to achieve a whole greater than the sum of the parts.
As of 2010, 53% of Bostonians were people of color compared to just 32% of the population in 1980. Citywide, 22% of Bostonians were African American, 17% Latino, and 9% Asian Pacific Islander. The neighborhoods of Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan are home to the highest concentration of African Americans in both Boston and Massachusetts while the city’s Latino population mostly resides in East Boston and parts of Jamaica Plain. Boston’s Asian population is largely concentrated into the small neighborhood of Chinatown as well as the Fields Corner neighborhood of Dorchester.
Formal and informal opportunities for public education, civic dialogue and debate are critical to a community's level of participatory democracy and civic engagement. Forums that are free and open to the public provide community members with numerous ways to learn about and debate differing viewpoints and experiences.
Greater Boston offers an unusually large number and broad range of opportunities for public dialogue, ranging from small and informal to the technologically advanced, which have only grown in the past few years. These opportunities range from the formal to the informal, and include free public lectures, panel discussions, and structured settings for small-group dialogues. Technological advances of interactive websites, email distribution lists, blogs, podcasting and Internet video streaming contribute further democratize access to information and create new forums for the sharing of ideas.
Civic Forums & Lecture Series:
Boston Speaker Series
Boston by Foot
YWCA Community Dialogues
One of the most important measures of social capital is whether neighbors feel that they can rely on and trust one another. Approximately every two years, the Boston Neighborhood Survey is conducted to explore the quality and safety of neighborhood life and social capital among neighbors.
Rates of neighborly trust have increased city-wide but vary across all Boston neighborhoods and over time. According to the most recent Boston Neighborhood Survey conducted in 2008, nearly 81% of Bostonians surveyed felt that they could rely on a neighbor for help, up from 76% in 2006 and 79% in 2003. More than 90% of residents in the North End, South Boston and Charlestown felt trust in their neighbors—the highest rate among the City’s neighborhoods. Though Roxbury (74%), North Dorchester (73%) and Mattapan (70%) continue to have the lowest rates of neighborly trust, rates have increase since 2006 when roughly 65% of residents reported feeling their neighbors were willing to help.
Rapid movement in and out of a neighborhood affects the ability of people to get to know and trust their neighbors, and may reflect a process of either deterioration or gentrification - with lower-income people being displaced because of rising rents and home values, as wealthier people move in. On the other hand, too little turnover can result in stagnation and the threat of disinvestment. Finding the right balance is a challenge - particularly in neighborhoods with a high percentage of renters who have little direct control over prices.
Boston continues to have a highly mobile population. As of 2010, 73% of all householders had moved into their current residence since 2000, with 41% of householders having moved into their current homes since 2008. Among households who moved since 2008, 88% were renters, a more highly mobile population.
Neighborhoods with the largest percentage of renters who moved in after 2000 are Fenway/Kenmore (81%), Allston/Brighton (68%) and East Boston (59%). Neighborhoods with the largest proportion of owner households that moved in after 2000 are Charlestown (28%), West Roxbury (28%), Hyde Park (27%) and South Boston (24%).
Making up over 40,000 establishments and generating around $15 billion in revenue, Boston's small businesses are the economic heart of many of Boston's communities. Many of these businesses are family owned, and frequently employ only 1-5 individuals - often family members. The data with regards to loans in this market is difficult to follow however, as many small business owners prefer to borrow money from their extended families and friends, making it difficult to track through official datasets.
Despite this, we can see that after the 2008 recession brought low both loan volumes (from 47,898 loans in 2007 to 15,663 loans in 2009) and loan amounts ($1 million in 2007 to $640,000 in 2009) in minority communities across Massachusetts, they have since recovered to pre-recession dollar amounts, if not in pre-recession loan amounts ($1.2 million and 31,186 respectively, in 2014).
Neighborhood libraries foster literacy and learning, provide an open civic space and promote opportunities for formal and informal public education. The number of books in circulation at a library is a direct reflection of a community’s access to and use of new, pertinent and available information. Each neighborhood of Boston has its own staffed and networked library enjoyed by individuals and families alike. The city’s library system offers Internet access and takes full advantage of new technological advances in library science to increase access to information and literary resources.
Total circulation for the Boston Public Library continued to grow through FY2010 to more than 3.4 million, a 3.5% increase over FY2009. Nearly 1.3 million of books circulated were from the central library and neighborhood branches with the highest circulation in FY10 were Jamaica Plain (164,310), Honan-Allston (164,077) and West End (156,548). However, the branches with the largest year-over-year increase were Grove Hall (+116%), Mattapan (+74.3%) and Parker Hill in Roxbury (+22.7%).
The location of cultural facilities has a direct impact on the people they attract and the ways in which they are utilized. Boston, like all great cities, enjoys a concentration of world-class, major and mid-sized cultural facilities in or near its downtown center. The distribution of neighborhood-scale facilities in proximity to the concentration of children —with most children unable or not permitted to travel great distances — indicates the potential for cultural enrichment closer to home.
Boston continues to have a higher concentration of arts and cultural facilities in the neighborhoods with fewer children. Conversely, those areas of the city with more children and more families have fewer local options for arts appreciation and activities.
Boston’s children are highly concentrated in the neighborhoods of Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan and East Boston. However, according to the New England Foundation for the Arts, there are just 59 cultural organization in Roxbury, 115 in Dorchester, 39 in East Boston and 23 in Hyde Park. By Comparison, there are nearly 300 in Back Bay and the South End and more than 230 in Fenway/Kenmore which are home to fewer of Boston's children
The location of cultural facilities has a direct impact on the people they attract and the ways in which they are utilized. Boston, like all great cities, enjoys a concentration of world-class, major and mid-sized cultural facilities in or near its downtown center.
While Downtown and Central Boston have the most arts and cultural destinations, neighborhoods such East Boston, Dochester, Roxbury, Mattapan, Roslindale, and West Roxbury have far fewer. However, different types of organizations are distributed differently across the city. The largest number of museums and visual arts organizations are located in Central Boston neighborhoods such as Beacon Hill, the North End and the West End as well as Back Bay and Fenway. However, ethnic arts organizations and performing arts organizations are well concentrated in the neighborhoods of Boston such as Dorchester, Roxbury and Jamaica Plain.
While in-school arts are vital to a complete and well-rounded education, out-of-school arts offer opportunities for learning and engagement during the crucial hours following school dismissal and before parents or other care-givers are available. According to research by the City of Boston’s Boston 2:00-to-6:00 After-School Initiative, now part of Boston After School & Beyond, quality after-school programming enhances children’s intellectual and emotional growth and peer relationship skills. Children are less likely to make irresponsible decisions with supervised after-school support. Arts activities expand the range of offerings available, providing a highly popular and important counterbalance to training for success on standardized tests.
Though data on participation does is not currently available, there are more than 100 organizations providing after school arts and cultural programming to youth of all ages according to BostoNavigator. The greatest number of organizations are located in Dorchester, with nearly 40, followed by a combined 29 in Central Boston, Back Bay and the South End, there were 13 organizations listed in Roxbury, and less than 10 in all other neighborhoods of Boston. BostoNavigator provides detailed programming information for all of Boston's out-of-school time programs and opportunities.
While Boston is well known for a few of its bigger institutions, such as Liberty Mutual or State Street, it is in small business employment that Boston really shines. According to Boston’s own Small Business Plan, the city’s small businesses make up over 40,000 establishments, generating around $15 billion in revenue and approximately 170,000 jobs. Of these, the simplest definition suggests that over 95% are sole proprietorships with fewer than 50 employees, or on average make under $5 million annually in revenue.
Across the city of Boston, employment and employers are concentrated predominantly in three neighborhoods – Central Boston, Back Bay/Beacon Hill, and South Boston; while the Fenway/Kenmore neighborhood features the fourth-most concentration of jobs in the city, at 19% of the overall employment.
Deep disparities in employment persist along lines of educational attainment in Boston as elsewhere. Averaged between 2006-2010, the unemployment rate for Bostonians between the ages of 25 and 64 without a High School diploma was over 12%. For those with a High School Diploma the unemployment rate was 12%, and for those with some college education 11% were unemployed. By comparison, among Bostonains with a Bachelor's Degree or Higher the unemployment rate was about 4%.
Furthermore, labor force participation increases with educational attainment. Roughly 35% of those without a High School diploma were not in the labor force as well as 25% of those with a High School diploma, 19% of those with some college and 12% of those with a Bachelor's Degree or higher. Working-age adults who are not active in the labor force are not counted in official unemployment rates.
Boston Public Schools have set a goal of 100% accreditation for early education programs by 2019 and Boston’s Thrive in 5 initiative has set the goal of 100% accreditation for all public and private programs by 2023.
The greatest number of providers are located in Dorchester with 222 facilities, Roslindale with 98 and Roxbury with 97. However, the greatest number of places for children as measured by capacity are Dorchester serving up to 4,346, Roxbury with a capacity of 2,276, Roslindale with 1,481 places and Jamaica Plain with 1,451 places.
Kindergarten registrations increased to more than 2,300 in SY 2012-13, up 25% from about 1,800 the previous year. As of the start of SY 2012-13 BPS had added 12 new kindergarten classrooms to accommodate the increase in registrations, but as many as 300 children did not have kindergarten placement.
Access to clean air and healthy homes are essential to nurturing healthy children with low rates of asthma and blood lead levels. However, pollutants emitted by diesel buses and trains, automobiles, and trucks, as well as by certain businesses such as auto repair shops and hazardous waste-related enterprises, are often linked poor child health outcomes in many low-income communities and communities of color.
Child hospitalizations due to asthma fell slightly from 2008 to 2009--most recent year available--but with persistent racial/ethnic disparities. Hospitalizations for all children ages two and under fell from 13.2 to 11.7 per 1,000 and for children ages three to five fell from 8.8 to 8.4 per 1,000. However, among children two and under hospitalizations per 1,000 were much higher for African Americans (16.5) and Latinos (12.3) than among white (8.3) and Asian (4.0) children. Similarly among three to five year olds, the rate per 1,000 was 13 among African Americans and 8.2 among Latinos compared to 5.4 among Asians and 2.7 among white children.
Green and open spaces provide residents and children the opportunity to experience the natural world in the heart of the city, engage in healthy outdoor recreation and exercie and contributes to the ecological integrity of an urban area.
The Trust for Public Land,2009 City Park Facts reporting onthe state of park land and open space in the 77 most populous cities in the US found that Boston has 5,040 acres of public parkland and ranks 5th among high-density cities in parkland as a percent of total land area (16.3%), 2nd in acres per residents (8.3), 9th in playgrounds per 10,000 residents (3.6) and spent $101 per resident on Parks and Recreation in FY07.
The City of Boston contains 5,518 acres of open space, including 3,251 acres of parks, playgrounds, squares and outdoor malls, 240 acres of protected ‘urban wilds;’ and 62 acres of community gardens. The Boston Parks and Recreation Department oversees 2,200 acres of parkland, including 215 parks and playgrounds, 65 squares, urban woodlands and street trees, three active cemeteries, 16 historic burying grounds, and two golf courses. The balanced distribution of greenspace is a critical component of neighborhood quality. Over the last 10 years, the Boston Parks and Recreation Department has implemented a $120 million rehabilitation of the city’s park system, targeting every tot lot and the majority of ball fields and courts.
According to the City of Boston Parks Department, Central Boston and the South End have about 2 acres of green space per 1,000 people, the least in the city. Fenway, Back Bay, and Dorchester have about twice that amount. Jamaica Plain, Hyde Park, Roslindale, and West Roxbury have the most open space per capital.
Community Health Centers play a critical role in supporting the physical and economic well-being of a community and are often the only source of primary care for patients and residents who may be medically disenfranchised. Research has also shown that the community-based model of care yields cost-savings in reduced emergency room visits and support for healthy behaviors.
Boston is home to 25 community health centers serving neighborhoods across the city including: seven in Dorchester, three in Roxbury and Jamaica Plain, two in Allston/Brighton and others in South Boston, Roslindale, East Boston and Charlestown.
Boston has traditionally had a healthy mix of people of all incomes. While some neighborhoods were high-priced, others offered homeownership and rental opportunities at affordable prices. Today, many Boston residents who have lived in a community for years or even a lifetime are finding that they cannot afford to purchase a home in Boston. Likewise, newcomers to the city - whether recently recruited professionals, graduates of local universities, or newcomer immigrant families - are experiencing sticker shock at local housing prices.
In 2011, the citywide median sales price of $362,500 was a 4% increase compared to 2010 for one-, two- and three-family homes and condominiums of $349,000. This is the second year that the citywide median sales price increased since the market peak in 2005 of $390,000.
Since 2005, median sales prices have fluctuated across Boston's neighborhoods, with the steepest declines found in neighborhoods hardest-hit by the housing and foreclosure crisis, which already had a less-established homeowner base. However, since 2010, many neighborhoods have seen increases in the median home price, most notably Roxbury with a 16% increase and Mattapan with a 9% increase. Fenway/Kenmore saw a 9% decrease, Hyde Park saw a 4% decrease, and West Roxbury saw a 6% decrease since 2010.
Despite moderating home prices, housing is less affordable in Boston and the region. In 2010, Boston’s median household income was $49,893, with 57% of renters and 45% of homeowners spending more than 35% of their income on housing. Those spending more than 50% increased from 20% in 2000 to 25% in 2009. In Massachusetts, about half of renters spend more than 30% of their income on housing.
As Boston’s home prices have declined and foreclosures increased, rents have increased. Fiscal Year HUD Fair Market Rents (FMRs) increased from FY2011 to FY2012 for all bedroom types by 1%. The median advertised asking rent increased by 25% from $1,600 in 2010 to $2,000 in 2011. The change in median rents increased in all neighborhoods from 2010 to 2011 except for Hyde Park, which decreased by 4%. South Boston saw the largest increase of 52% in median rent. The South End and Central Boston also saw significant increases in median rent by 19% and 16%. Also, Fiscal Year HUD Fair Market Rents (FMRs) increased by 1% from FY2011 to FY2012. According to the Department of Neighborhood Development, the number of listings in 2011 decreased by 67% because of less turnover and vacancy rates decreasing by half.
The minimum wage in Massachusetts is $8.00 per hour, and the 2011 median rent for a 2-BR apartment in Boston is $2100. At minimum wage, a person would have to work 450 hours per month in order to afford a 2-BR apartment at median rent.
According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, residents should not pay more than 30% of their income towards housing. High housing costs can create financial distress for households. A lack of disposable income limits our choices in terms of food, transportation, recreation, and educational enrichment.
As of 2010, 36% of home owners and 48% of renters in Boston spent more than 30% of gross income on housing costs. The housing cost burden is greatest for those with the lowest household incomes: 95% of owners and 74% of renters with incomes less than $20,000 spent more than one-third of income on housing. By comparison, among Boston households earning more than $75,000 16% of owners and 8% of renters were cost-burdened by housing.
Cost burden varies by neighborhood with the greatest concentration of rental cost burdened households in the Fenway/Kenmore area and parts of Roxbury, Jamaica Plain, Dorchester and Hyde Park where more than 70% of renters were cost burdened in 2010. Because Boston has a substantial inventory of affordable and subsidized housing, there are low rates of cost-burdened households in areas with the lowest household incomes.
An abandoned building represents the loss of a residential or commercial resource. In addition, abandoned buildings represent blight on a neighborhood, a threat to health and safety, and a loss of potential property tax revenue. If abandoned buildings are not sold or renovated immediately, time takes a further toll on the structures, making re-use of the property an increasingly expensive and difficult venture.
In 2010, 246 buildings were categorized as abandoned or distressed by the City of Boston Department of Neighborhood Development. This represents a decrease over 2008 which found 318 of such buildings, but strikingly lower than in 1997 when more than 1,000 buildings were categorized as such. Of these buildings in 2010, 127 (51.6%) were residential, whereas 119 (48.3%) were commercial and/or mixed-use.
The City of Boston recorded 525 foreclosure deeds in 2011 down from the most recent peak of 1,215 in 2008 but still well above the years 2000 through 2005 when fewer than 100 foreclosure deeds were recorded annually.
Despite the overall decline foreclosures remain highly concentrated in Dorchester, with 149 in 2011, and Roxbury, with 79. By comparison, there were fewer than 10 foreclosure deeds in Central Boston, Charlestown, Back Bay/Beacon Hill, the South End and Fenway.
The Boston Public Library system, with 25 branches in addition to the central library in Copley Square, is a primary point of free access to computers and the internet across all of Boston's neighborhoods.
Use of the Boston Public Library as a source of wireless internet and computer access continued to increase in FY11. More than 230,000 wifi session were logged--more than double the rate in FY08--and public computers were used nearly 750,000 times, up 38% from FY07.
Access to BPL computers is evenly distributed across the 25 neighborhood branches, all of which have at least 20 computers. Branches with the greatest number of public computers are Mattapan with 47, Grove Hall with 45 and Dudley with 45.
Some of the benefits of walking to school are increased physical activity for children, reduced transportation costs for the district and a sense of connection and community between the school and the neighborhood. Boston Public Schools reserves 50% of each school's seats for children within the walk zone which extends 1 mile for elementary schools, 1.5 miles for middle schools and 2 miles for high schools
As of school year 2011-12, 24,907 or 44% of students enrolled in a Boston Public School lived within the designated walk zone. Schools in East Boston had the highest concentration of students who walked to school: O'Donnell Elementary (91.5%), McKay K-8 (90%) and Otis Elementary (89.5%). Schools with the lowest concentration of children in the walk zone were citywide high schools and 16 schools enrolled no students who lived within the walk zone including the three exam schools, the Hernandez K-8, the Timilty Middle School and a number of specialized schools.
Participatory Chinatown is a 3D immersive game designed to be part of the master planning process for Boston's Chinatown. It is at the marriage of civic engagement and technology.