In an interview with PSFK, working in collaboration with Verizon, Nigel Jacob discusses how he is using technology for good with his work for New Urban Mechanics

In a special series brought to you with the help of our partner Verizon, The Pioneers of Humanability is directing the spotlight onto the people, organizations, and companies who are using technology to do more new and do more good in the world.

‘Climate change,’ ‘social equity,’ ‘economic prosperity’—these are buzzwords and challenges that affect communities the world over. However, certain issues tend to be more pronounced in urban areas, due to the higher concentration of people. New Urban Mechanics, Boston’s research and development team that experiments with solutions to problems facing the city’s residents, aims to address issues like these using innovative and creative experiments at the junction of technology and design. In this interview, the organization’s co-founder and one of PSFK’s featured Pioneers of Humanability, Nigel Jacob, discusses New Urban Mechanics’ goals and projects to improve quality of life for the Boston community.

PSFK: In what ways do you think technology has the potential to impact humanity, making a positive social difference?

Nigel: The context I think technology to have a huge impact in making connections between disparate communities. One of the ongoing challenges that we face cities are the gaps and lack of connectivity across different segments of society. As such tools second better enable people to interact and discuss issues of local importance to build relationships- is really exciting.

How does your work allow you to do more new and do more good?

New urban mechanics has always focused unbilled and better civic experiences for residents. This focus on design and the needs of people has enabled us on issues pertaining to civic engagement to transportation and even to housing.

What are the biggest challenges facing communities in urban environments?

Urban issues vary from city to city, but in general the issues are climate change, social equity, and economic prosperity for all.

New Urban Mechanics aims to “make civic life more meaningful.” Expand upon this and how it informs your organization's projects.

The ethics of design are critical. We think a lot about how our work impacts peoples lives in both the near and shorter. This means many things. Firstly it means that we need to be accessible. People need to be able to reach us and interact with us in an easy way. Secondly, it means that we need to be honest about what we can and cannot do.

Tell us about a particular application where technology and design intersected to resolve a challenge facing urban communities.

It's too much to say that any urban issues have been resolved, but one set of issues that we've been working on where we have seen change is around driving behavior. Boston famously has some pretty bad traffic with speeding being an ongoing challenge in our efforts to become a more bike friendly city. As such, a few years ago we had the idea of creating a digital game-like platform which could encourage and incentivize people to drive more safely. We partnered with a local company to create a game called Boston's Safest Driver. The goal of the game was to remind people to engage in safer driving practices throughout the day. Points were awarded for behavior and there was a leaderboard to show how you ranked against others. At the and of the game we awarded some prizes and gave lots of kudos to the winners.

This kind of approach won't necessarily solve the issues of transportation in the city and certainly we're doing everything we can to encourage smarter multi-modal transportation decision-making amongst our residents. But these approaches can go a long way to demonstrating that local government can be flexible and dynamic and how it approaches urban issues.

What improvement(s) are you most excited to tackle in the next year?

Under mayor Walsh, Boston has been focused on the issue of social resilience and equity. Needless to say this is big, but it's an important one. If we can move the needle on the issue of social resilience and equity we'll be able to have impact on a huge range of urban issues in everything from education to transportation to economic development.

Solving civic challenges is possible with integrated urban technologies like those New Urban Mechanics is fostering. For more about how pioneers like Nigel are using technology to serve progressive goals and better the community for all, see The Pioneers of Humanability, brought to you by PSFK with Verizon.

Verizon’s Pioneers of Humanability list honors the people, organizations and companies that are using technological innovations to bring about good things for the world. These are the pioneers, keeping food safe and water clean, cutting pollution, saving energy and enabling doctors to treat patients a county or a country away. They’ve stopped asking “What if?” or “Why isn’t?” and started doing and leading. These are the people, organizations and companies you need to know about now—because they’re building the future.