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Introducing Beta Blocks

May 24, 2019

What will the future of Boston be like? Will there be flying cars? Will services, like education and street maintenance, be equitable?

Today, the Engagement Lab @ Emerson College, in collaboration with the City of Boston Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics and Supernormal, is excited to announce Beta Blocks.

Beta Blocks is a participatory imagination project about future Boston that supports local communities to question and explore the role of new technologies in the places they live.

From air quality sensors to security camera networks to autonomous delivery drones, new technologies are coming to the places we live that will transform them in ways big and small.

But too often, the communities that live, work, and play in those places aren’t able to participate in the important discussions that happen before technologies are installed.

What are the problems that communities face? How might technologies help address them? And what trade-offs might communities be making when new technologies are introduced to the places they live?

Bringing together the City, technology companies, and local communities, Beta Blocks aims to imagine how technologies can help address the problems neighborhoods face and to set up experiments and discussions to evaluate the impact of technologies on the City.

To help kickstart this conversation, the Beta Blocks team is hosting a wide range of events and community activities in neighborhoods around the City all summer long.

They’re all open to the public, with no technical knowledge required to participate. And of course, they’re free!

A great way to get started is by visiting our traveling exhibit. This family-friendly installation features a number of fun, approachable activities that invite you to think about the future of the City, from exploring open data to sharing your perspective on how you think tech should be used in the city.

Oh, and it all takes place around a giant, huggable, inflatable purple blob designed by Supernormal. It looks like this:

The blob doesn’t have a name yet. Want to help us pick one?

Why a blob? Well, as our exhibit pops up around the city, we want members of the public to feel curious enough to come participate. So far, we’ve found the blob to be an awesome conversation starter!

This exhibit will be visiting neighborhoods from Allston to Chinatown throughout the summer, but you can see it first in Roxbury at our block party launch event on June 15th. (Expect more info about that event very soon.)

Want to make an impact on the future of a neighborhood in Boston? Join a Zone Advisory Group!

Zone Advisory Group members play a key role by helping to evaluate real technologies we’re experimentally deploying in neighborhood Exploration Zones in Lower Allston, Chinatown, and Dorchester.

As a Zone Advisory Group member, you’ll attend two workshops and a community hackathon to understand how these technologies work and evaluate whether they reflect community values.

Ultimately, the insights you share will be part of the substantive feedback we provide to the City of Boston.

Becoming a Tech Explorer gives teens the chance to learn more about technology and imagine how they will transform the city of Boston!

By participating in a multi-week summer program, our Tech Explorers learn key skills in human-centered design and data storytelling.

And just like adult Zone Advisory Group members, Tech Explorers also get to help question and evaluate the new technologies deployed in our Exploration Zones and provide meaningful feedback to the City.

Looking for a way to get involved without needing to make a bigger commitment?

Attend one of our walking tours to explore a local neighborhood in Boston to discuss the impact and effect of technology on urban environments in the context of that neighborhood’s history.

These walking tours are led by local youth and run regularly throughout the summer.

Community members are the heart of Beta Blocks, so no matter how you prefer to get involved, we hope you’ll join us in imagining the future and evaluating the technologies that will transform the City of Boston!

We’ll have plenty more to share about this project over the course of the summer, so sign up for our email list to be the first to get updates about events and activities.

If you have any questions or comments about this project, we’d love to hear from you on social media!

And for even more information about Beta Blocks, check out our shiny new website at

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