• About the Project
  • Indicators: what we track
    What is Civic Vitality?
    Civic vitality reflects a community’s connectedness and bonds of trust, or social capital, created through neighborliness, friendship, kinship, civil discourse and collaboration. These are strengthened by places to gather, open access to information, opportunities for civic and electoral engagement, effective leadership and philanthropic giving -- although these same assets can be used to exclude outsiders.


    What is Cultural Life & the Arts?
    The Cultural Life & the Arts sector reflect a community’s cultural vibrancy –it includes all of its diverse ethnic traditions and festivals, opportunities for art and music making and enjoyment, venues for the performing and visual arts, architectural heritage, museums and public art.


    What is the Economy?
    An economy is the sum total of an area’s production, distribution, consumption and exchange of goods and services resulting from investments of labor and financial capital in the use of that area’s natural, human and technological resources.  


    What is Education?
    Education is the process by which skills, knowledge and values are transmitted from teacher to student while, at the same time, each student’s potential to think and act logically, creatively and critically is being developed.  


    What is Environment & Energy?
    The environment encompasses an area’s natural resources – land, air, fresh and marine water, wildlife habitat and biodiversity, and the commercial and recreational uses they support – and their intersection with energy sources for and emissions from transportation, commerce, industry and home heating and cooling systems, along with the local effects of global climate change.


    What is Health?
    For an individual, health is physical and mental freedom from acute illness, chronic disease and injury reflecting a good diet, adequate exercise, environmental and behavioral safety and genetic good luck. Individual health outcomes are greatly affected by socio-economic and community-level factors such as access to affordable healthy food, opportunities for exercise, recreation, supportive relationships, degree of exposure to environmental toxins and unsafe conditions, and the quality of one’s education and housing.


    What is Housing?
    Housing meets the basic human need for shelter; for most households it is a major expense or investment that can lead to economic security or insecurity. Housing is also a fundamental building block of livable, vibrant communities and, when blighted it is a source of community destabilization.


    What is Public Safety?
    Public safety is the peace of mind that results from the effective prevention of and/or response to events that endanger or threaten both individuals and the general public with physical, emotional or financial harm. Public safety encompasses both violent and non-violent crime, from domestic and street violence to cyber-security and white-collar crime.
    What is Technology?
    Technology is the development and use of tools, methods and skills to achieve a goal. From arrowheads and the control of fire to ploughs, wheels, engines and computer chips, new technologies change our relationship to the natural world and to the ways in which we live, work, connect and create. 


    What is Transportation?

    Transportation is the movement of cargo -- people, animals or material goods – from one place to another. Modes of transportation in contemporary life include walking, bicycling, cars, buses, trucks, aircraft, freight and passenger trains, subways, ships and boats.


    Crosscut Topics
    Boston Neighborhoods
    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.  
    Children & Youth

    Children mirror a community’s values, progress and challenges. If a community’s children are thriving, it is likely that the whole community is doing well. The Boston Indicators Project tracks progress through 2030—Boston’s 400th Anniversary - when many of today’s children and youth will be civic, political and business leaders and their children will be in school.

    Competitive Edge

    The Greater Boston region has a long history as a birthplace of revolution and innovation and is packed with firsts - the nation’s first public park and public library, breakthroughs in medicine and “green” building.  With a newly revitalized waterfront and some of the nation’s - and the world’s - top colleges and universities, the region - with Boston at its core - attracts students from around the world and top-tier talent in all fields to its dynamic  and diversified knowledge economy.

    Fiscal Health
    This cross-cut filter measures fiscal health in several ways: by tracking municipal, state and federal funding as well as levels of philanthropic giving to the nonprofit sector.  In a high-cost city such as Boston, the financial health of individuals and families is another important measure of the fiscal stability and health of the region.
    Race & Ethnicity
    Issues of race and ethnicity - in Boston and elsewhere - generally emerge on two fronts: one is the cultural richness that racial and ethnic diversity contribute to a city and region; the other is persistent disparities in education, health and economic status.  People of color have often faced inequitably high hurdles to educational and economic advancement.
    Sustainable Development

    Sustainable development refers to patterns of growth that integrate environmental and human health, economic dynamism, and social cohesion and equity.  Sustainable development is multi-dimensional by definition: biodiversity health; the availability of jobs at a living age; regional and per capita carbon dioxide emissions; the availability of fresh water and open spaces; etc.  All of these factors increase the quality of life.

    View the Entire Framework
    Complete Framework

    The Boston Indicators Project’s comprehensive Framework of indicators and measures reflects an intensive, participatory selection process that included hundreds of Bostonians and reviewed by thousands more. Beginning with positive goals for the future, these data-rich indicators and measures provide an objective way to assess current conditions, trends over time and patterns of relationships, as well as outcomes for specific groups, neighborhoods, the City of Boston and the Metro Boston region.  The Complete Project Framework can also be re-sorted into crosscutting topics and civic agenda goals.

    View the Complete Framework of Indicators

  • Reports: in-depth analysis
    City of Ideas: Reinventing Boston's Innovation Economy

    The 2012 Boston Indicators Report shows that standard top-level economic indicators don't tell us everything we need to know about the state of jobs and equity in our local and regional economy. We need to reinvent Boston's innovation economy through greater opportunity and shared prosperity.

    Read Our Past Publications Chronicling Boston from 2000-2009

    The Boston Indicators Project produces biennial reports chronicling Boston's accomplishments and the full array of challenges facing the city and region.  These reports build on expert and stakeholder convenings, data analysis, and reviews of recent research. Over the years, they have helped to catalyze an on-going set of conversations throughout the community about our region's economic competitiveness and the key challenges facing Boston.

    The Measure of Poverty: A Boston Indicators Project 2011 Special Report

    The Measure of Poverty was released in September 2011.  Findings show that the rates of poverty in Boston changed very little over the last twenty years, but is more deeply concentrated in single-parent families in particular neighborhoods. State and local budget cuts due to the recession may have long-term consequences in mitigating the effects of poverty.  The Boston Indicators Project released another special report in 2008, Boston’s Education Pipeline: A Report Card, which provided a comprehensive view of the entire arc of Boston’s system of educational opportunities and outcomes, with an update in 2011.

  • Snapshots & Briefs: quick reviews
    Neighborhoods & Planning Districts

    The City of Boston is comprised of 16 Planning Districts and 26 neighborhoods, each with a unique history and identity.  

    This portion of the site is coming soon. For facts and figures about Boston Neighborhoods see the Boston Neighborhood Topic Crosscut Page.

    City of Boston

    The City of Boston is comprised of 16 Planning Districts and 26 neighborhoods, each with a unique history and identity.  

    Metro Boston Region
    The Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) region includes 101 cities and towns. Learn about the region.  

    This portion of the site is coming soon. In the meantime check out the MetroBoston DataCommon for facts and figures about the MAPC region.

    This portion of the site is coming soon. In the meantime check out the MetroBoston DataCommon for facts and figures about Massachusetts.

  • Tools & Resources: find what you need
    Learn more about a topic or do your own analysis through access to research, reports, data and analytical tools.

    Explore our digital library, which archives research reports, journal articles, newspaper clippings, blog posts, media coverage, and more about Boston, the region, nation and world.  Search all by using our sector and crosscut topics as filters.
    By aligning our resources and efforts, we can each make a difference in shaping the future.

    What are the best ways to solve the pressing challenges of our city, region, country and planet?  The Hub of Innovation profiles a set of breakthrough solutions from the region, nation and world.

    Nominate a breakthrough!

  • Shape of the City: Boston's future
    By aligning our resources and efforts, we can each make a difference in shaping the future.
    Greater Boston's Emerging Civic Agenda, created by hundreds of experts, policy makers and community stakeholders over ten years, offers as set of coherent data-driven strategies to move the region forward.  It is organized in four areas, with goals and measurable milestones.
    A Lifetime of Opportunity
    Organized into six buckets, the Opportunity Index tracks key indicators of mobility across a lifetime.  Developed to initiate and inform conversations on inequality, this tool will evolve along with conversations on economic and social disparities.

Trends & Challenges

Greater Boston's increasing racial/ethnic diversity is a powerful asset in an increasingly complex world and competitive global marketplace. Boston, Greater Boston and Massachusetts gained population in recent decades due only to an influx of foreign-born immigrants, most of whom are of color, and Boston is now a “majority minority”  city in which three-quarters of its children are of color compared to 53% of the total population. Newcomers have revitalized many towns and neighborhoods, while immigrant entrepreneurs account for a vastly disproportionate number of new businesses and jobs statewide. The challenge going forward is for people of color and newcomers to achieve full civic and electoral participation, and for their children to be educated to the same high global standards as those of most white students in the Commonwealth.

Leadership diversity in the Commonwealth, region and City progressed markedly over the last decade, but major hurdles to attaining full demographic representation persist: From Massachusetts’ first-in-the nation re-election of an African American governor and first election of women as the State's Attorney General and State Treasurer to the Boston City Council’s historic 2011 election in which its first woman of color and second Latino were top at-large vote getters to the first women presidents of Harvard and MIT, Greater Boston's leadership diversity is increasing. However, the full demographic representation of women and all racial/ethnic groups in public, nonprofit and  private sector leadership spheres is lagging, reinforcing narrow perspectives and experiences at a time of great global change.. For example:

  • Women: While women account for 51.6% of Massachusetts population, they represent only about 12% of the members of the boards of Greater Boston’s 100 largest companies, of which just 1.3% are women of color -- with both figures essentially unchanged since 2006.  Similarly, just 24.5% of Massachusetts 200 elected legislators are women.
  • Latinos: Latinos accounted for 9.6% of the Massachusetts population as of the 2010 Census but just 2% of state legislative seats in 2012.
  • African Americans: African Americans accounted for 6.6% of the Massachusetts population as of the 2010 Census but just 2.5% of state legislative seats in 2012.
  • Asian Americans: Asian Americans accounted for 5.3% of the Massachusetts population as of the 2010 Census but just 1.5% of state legislative seats in 2012.

Despite  major progress on race relations, Greater Boston is often perceived as behind other US regions in its level of inclusivity, equity and equal opportunity. Perhaps in response to widening inequality and stubborn disparities in educational attainment and health disparities, the region continues to lose young talent of color to cities and regions perceived to offer greater opportunity and to be more welcoming, such as Atlanta, New York City and the West Coast.  

A widening income divide is undermining the shared experience of daily life that can inform and deepen a commitment to the common good: In Boston, as elsewhere, the economic downturn revealed and reinforced long-term trends such as widening income inequality. In 2010, the top 5% of Bostonians accounted for 25% of Boston’s total aggregate income while the bottom 20% accounted for just 2.2%.  Diverging realities and future expectations are undermining a shared understanding of the common good. Between 1989 and 2004, the Gini coefficient of inequality increased faster in New England than in any other region of the nation and Massachusetts went from being the 22nd to 5th state in unequal income distribution.

With 351 municipalities in Massachusetts -- each with its own “sovereign” government -- local control often comes at the price of regional collaboration. While engagement in local government promotes informed local decision-making, it can also lead to overly restrictive local zoning that inhibits solid planning for regional transportation systems and affordable housing, fragmented environmental protection and regulation, a lack of coordination in human services and emergency response and inefficiency in the purchase of goods, services and health care.

In response to greater need and fewer public resources, volunteer activity – increasingly defined as a two-way exchange of experience – has increased. The local volunteerism resource Boston Cares reports that for Boston, Baby Boomers are the most rapidly growing cohort of volunteers and that, reflecting tough economic times; small to midsize companies have decreased their level of participation. Challenging economic times are also requiring  many households to have two wage earners or wage earners holding multiple jobs, diminishing opportunities for civic participation. Moreover, despite a rising demand for skilled volunteers, there is no infrastructure in place for skills/needs coordination.

Consolidation across the industry and online media outlets have eroded traditional newspaper and television newsrooms – as well as accountability and accuracy: Under siege from the technological revolution and with declining advertising and circulation rates, local newspapers are both cutting back and being purchased by larger organizations. Circulation rates for the Boston Globe and Boston Herald continue to decline even as they seek a sustainable business model for online content. Information is increasingly sourced and consumed from online aggregated-content sites with strong points of view rather than local reporting based on local knowledge and relationships, with few ways to check accuracy, and with many worthy local stories going unreported. 

Technological innovation and trends support greater expansion of social, hyper-local and ethnic media:  Sharing, connecting and sourcing on-line information is coming to the fore, enriching and increasing hyper-local news sources from blogs to BNN-TV and PATCH. At the same time, Massachusetts Spanish TV Network or MAStv, launched in 2011, is offering more Spanish-language programming. At the same time, local and national support for public radio has grown, ethnic newspapers are thriving and Boston’s public radio stations WBUR and WGBH are now competing to be the region’s premier news outlet.

Even with breakthroughs by Boston’s Office of Urban Mechanics and others in providing timely online information to Bostonians, full access to information about important events, opportunities and services across sectors and communities remains a challenge. Resources such as the BostoNavigator, a database and website designed to enhance access and referrals to after-school programs and the Boston Public Schools’ website on Student Assignment Plans are needed to assist residents in understanding and addressing critical community issues.

A shift in non-profit practices toward data collection and measurement guides program development and assess impact. From the Boston Foundation to the Crittenden Women’s Union, ROCA, Year Up and Building Educated Leaders for Life (BELL), nonprofit organizations are moving to a data-driven performance and outcomes-based approach.  This trend is being augmented by the Patrick Administration’s pilot “pay for performance” contracts in which specified outcomes must be met in order to receive payment.

Despite significant progress, the region remains challenged to strengthen its “collaborative gene.” Despite enormous progress, Greater Boston is still perceived by those who live and work here as needing to develop a greater degree of coordination and collaboration, particularly across industrial and commercial sectors, neighborhoods and regions across the Commonwealth that do not regularly work with or connect with one another.