CITIXL teamed up with Wentworth Institute of Technology to help Boston City Council office develop a vision and plan to activate vacant city properties in the Dorchester and Mattapan neighborhoods. The result was a 2 day pressure-cooker borrowing, from the Dutch experience to help teams develop 8 short-term solutions to address the issue of blighted properties and communities.  This 24hrs hands-on workshop used digital tools and strategies, relevant data collection, design thinking, immersion techniques, and rapid prototyping.


The experiment kicked-off Friday afternoon 22 March 2019 with a warm welcome from Wentworth Institute of Technology’s Monique Fuchs Associate Vice President, Innovation + Entrepreneurship. Boston City Council President Campbell and Constituent Services Coordinator Dustin Gardner introduced the participants to the many challenges and characteristics of District 4 area.

Vincent Alkema, an Innovation Officer at Holland Innovation Network Boston, gave a compelling presentation about Dutch values and their collaboration with USA: “to work together to innovate and pursue environmental sustainability, social sustainability, social equality which are all related to the increasing urbanisation, which is a global phenomena.”

“Just like the Dutch flood, water does not care about borders – today the same goes for climate change and social inequality”

Tom van Arman of CITIXL explained the Spelregels or “rules of the game”. The challenge of the event was defined:  “Develop simple, viable, and temporary solutions for empty spaces in District 4 areas”. Tom then explained how the teams would be made up of architects, urban designers, business developers, entrepreneurs and community leaders.

The teams were instructed to think freely, with no constraints. For example:

    • Imagine all requests for short term leases or permits are already approved.
    • Prioritise – assume you have no power, no water or other utilities, what is the first thing you do?
    • Test your solution – how does your concept provide a positive economic, environmental & social impact? Ask the community representative on your team!
    • Proof of Concept – once your killer idea is a success, how do you scale or replicate?

Then we announced to the crowd – “Find your team and find your property!”

In the end, Tom emphasized their was only one real rule to challenge:


Andrew McCue of Metabolic Amsterdam offered some inspiring case-studies about how artists, startups and communities have catalysed cleantech hot-beds in Amsterdam to inspire teams. He demonstrated some handy tools to kick start problem properties by applying cutting edge circular economy tools such as “Urban Metabolism Scans” and “Urban Mining Programs”.

To end the evening, eight carefully curated groups chose among 15 parcels in the district that are neglected or vacant. The eight teams grouped up around a larger than life “birds eye view” wall poster of the District 4 properties and ran against the clock to claim the location for which they wanted to develop a solution.  

Rapid Prototyping

Saturday morning at 9 AM, well rested and ready to go, we started the teams off with a brief about some important information gathered the night before.  

Leading up to the event, the Boston City Council Office teamed up with Jacob Dansey of Involved, a micro-polling software for local government, that helps public offices increase civic engagement and understand public opinion with single question surveys. The surveys were sent out to the residents of District 4 to help guide the teams with feedback to make informed decisions about which solutions would be most meaningful or relevant to the surrounding community.

District-wide, about 35 percent of respondents said they were looking for more housing, 27 percent wanted community green space, 22 percent were interested in urban farms or gardens, and about 8 percent spoke up for public art or commercial space.

These public opinions together with a field book, which described the features and characteristics of each site, together with the Boston Property Data and photo & video info pack, teams had enough information to start rapid prototyping solutions in an agile sprint.

The rest of the day we spent encouraging and coaching creativity in an intense, exciting collaboration to get the best ideas out of the teams who thought and worked together up to the last minute preparing for the packed Saturday evening pitch session.

Teams quickly prototyped in 3 phases: Ideation, Business Modeling and Value Proposition.

8 Killer Concepts

All the 8 teams came through and rapid prototyped some serious solutions for their selected properties. By the end of day 2, each team delivered a short 5 minute pitch to an expert jury of community leaders and policy makers from the city.  They all deserve a huge thanks, as you will see from the brief descriptions below:

Team 1 “Community Canopy”

Site 13, 282-284 Washington Street

Suggesting a safe, lush and inspiring sanctuary for children, teens and adults alike; this concept addresses the fact that our kid’s radius of movement within neighborhoods has shrunk consistently over the last decades. While our parents safely roamed large parts of their neighborhoods, today our kids are frequently confined to a small area they can access on their own. This project uses an empty lot on Washington Street to create a healing oasis, a safe place for all ages – expanding the radius of movement by creating a destination. The “Community Canopy” is formed by a large geodesic dome, an iconic structure offering space for classes, activities and festivities. Financed and supported by crowd funding, the building and the surrounding garden encourage personal growth and social connections. A gently curved pathway pulls visitors into the park-like community garden where healthy food and herbs are grown around the geodesic dome. The proposed programming includes  yoga classes and healing events as well as farmer’s markets – promoting mental and physical health close to home.

Team 2 “Art/Farm”

Site 04, Dorchester114 Bowdoin Avenue

This pitch combined art and agriculture within a small gallery structure added to 114 Bowdoin Avenue. With the help of funding from Home Depot and other corporations, the site turns into an urban farm that involves the community in growing its own food, thus promoting a healthy lifestyle. The building itself exhibits art by the community and represents a surface for artistic statements fostering expression and creativity. Unleashing the inspirational powers of building, creating and gardening, the site turns into an active testimony of the community’s identity.


Team 3 “The Shed on the Bend”

Site 10, 262 Norfolk Street

In an area predominantly offering rental housing, this site acts as an expansion of people’s living rooms and gardens. With public space in District 4 being at a premium, a shared community garden is combined with an event space for personal birthdays, family events and community festivals. Located at the corner of Capen Street and Norfolk street, the site is visible and accessible. A small building powered by solar panels (including a storage battery module) offers storage for tables and chairs as well an indoor living room, flanked by greenhouses for community gardening. A patio outside the structure offers outdoor space for get-togethers. The pathway through the site is marked by a special gate available for Instagram moments such as weddings or anniversaries. The area surrounding the patio is transformed into a vegetable garden and park.


Team 4 “Training Springboard”

Site 08, 240 Bowdoin Street

Faced with the challenge of a building dedicated to commercial space on the ground floor and abandoned apartments upstairs, this team used their site as an incubator to provide job training in all construction trades.  Imagining a partnership with two local organisations – one a teen center and the other one offering apprenticeships for carpenters – the new use of the site provides hands-on training for remodelling using the building itself as a teaching tool. The wood clad corner building turns into an experimental training structure, being remodelled over and over again. Training and practicing a variety of building trades will build personal confidence, skills and ultimately a path to employment opportunities. The location is ideal to help local craft unions to create new ‘rapid exposure’ to the diversity of potential talent around the area. The site’s new use aims at increasing overall professional skills in the community, allowing more people to increase their incomes.


Team 5 “C-Square Gaming Center”

Site 12, 318 Talbot Avenue

This team asked “How might we provide a safe, supervised, fun AND educational space for teenagers in the Mattapan/Dorchester area?” They responded with a concept they call the C-Square Gaming Center.  Combining teenage fascination for video gaming with supervised after-school tutoring and homework assistance, this center is going to link academic success to play and entertainment. Sharing the popularity and economic success of eSports, the team truly relies on a likely present and future trend. Serving at least four neighborhood schools closeby, the existing building becomes a youth center sponsored by brands such as Bose, Intel and Samsung, generating revenue with a billboard. The community programs are supported by co-op students from local universities and assisted by high school students fulfilling volunteer hours. This building will become the focal point of tech education, eSports events and academic excellence while at the same time building a community especially for teens.


Team 6 “D.Art in the Square”

Site 14 – 571 Washington Street

The online survey conducted by City Council Office showed that residents wanted urban farming and a creative outlet for it’s youth. Focusing on the expressive power of art, making and exhibiting, this intervention makes use of an open courtyard that becomes a canvas for art, performances and gatherings. The open space of the lot is used for outdoor seating and events as well as studio spaces for artists to work and teach. Exhibited are also the existing layers – brick walls and building parts that connect the new use to architecture from the past. Using minimal means for maximal outcome, the site will become a lively forum for expression for the community and beyond. The proposal uses recycled material as a staging ground to produce & sell art as a sustainable business model.


Team 7 “D4DC”

Site 1 – 1127 Blue Hill Avenue

D4DC District 4 Design Collaborative takes on the housing crisis in the district and uses their chosen site as incubator for more projects to come by constructing five affordable apartments and a community center offering training and communal programming. The housing is defined by offering additional resources provided through making space and programming available. The community centers that are part of the development will act as focus points for the surrounding neighborhood and become a destination for learning and social interaction.  With the profit generated, D4DC is planning to buy another underutilized property and continue the creation of affordable housing that includes places for the individual to be part of a larger whole. Creating a self perpetuating process, over time, the approach leads to a continuous expansion of the housing stock currently lacking. The team succeeded in getting a statement of intent from a large crowdfunding organization who are interested in participating.


Team 8 “The Connection Catalyst-aT Fields Corner”

Site 06 – 1476 Dorchester Avenue

Combining Food, Culture and Programming, this pitch plans to “catalyze connections across cultures, generations and communities.” A phased approach to slowly revitalizing the existing structure on the site, a raw space is renovated as community space first and later expanded by restoring an existing commercial kitchen to allow for classes, sales, events and movies. Once the entire building is reconfigured and usable, it will combine culture programming, a shared industrial kitchen for commercial undertakings and event spaces. Acting as small business incubator, the concept unites free activities for residents and revenue-generating programs that could include farmer’s markets, kitchen rentals, event rentals, music performances and cooking classes. This pitch maximizes the specific possibilities of the site and offers flexible concepts of use and commercial viability, envisioning an organic process of growth and expansion.


End Result

Thanks to all the contributing partners and community participants, this “Reclaiming Space” event demonstrated to everyone involved what citizen engagement and empowerment looks like. The Dutch DIY (Do It Yourself) principles showed how communities don’t need permission or funding from government to make an immediate difference. The experience informed experts and students alike about how to create genuine resiliency.

Wentworth Institute of Technology’s Monique Fuchs writes:

“Because of this traction, we have moved beyond the CityLab as a launchpad and channeled some of the projects into the next phase”

Just a week after the event,  Wentworth Institute of Technology (WIT) initiated the following:

  • 20k towards a civic innovation fund to advance the following three project ideas: Team 8 “The Connection Catalyst-aT Fields Corner Bakery”, Team 5 “C-Square Gaming Center”, and Team 4 “Training Springboard”
  • Each project will be placed into a business management capstone class this summer
  • “Capstone Faculty” five faculty mentors, five student mentors committed to serve as mentors and the sign off from the Dean and the Department Chairs.
  • Community leaders in Mattapan are on board.
  • Boston City Council will move this into a feasibility study
  • Cross-campus partnerships with external community designers.
  • One of the community leaders reached out to “Activate Art” and WIT has proposed a D4 artist showcase in the new building and with the Casella gallery under the curation of humanities.
  • Approached the “Community Gardens” to stakeholders on campus to get them to participate
  • One community leader reached out looking to get more involved in her respective civic association.
  • Other organisations like Neponset Greenway wants to participate , which provide additional activation opportunities.
  • A fieldbook is published to help students and community organizations as an inspirational piece.
  • Video Documentary (Coming Soon)
  • WIT donated the large bird’s-eye map to the Councilor’s office.
  • And more!

Please stay tuned to see the many developments from the initiatives above!

We want to thank the many people and partners that made this event such a great success: Wentworth Institute of Technology, Office of Andrea J. Campbell, Boston City Councilor – District 4, Holland Innovation Network, Consulate of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and Metabolic