This City’s Harvard Partnership Helped Eliminate Blight

Somerville, Massachusetts

Somerville, Massachusetts Todd Van Hoosear /


Connecting state and local government leaders

The municipality formerly known as “Slumerville” has gone from a “basketcase,” in one lecturer’s words, to being well run.

When Mayor Joe Curtatone first won election in November 2003, Somerville, Massachusetts, just outside Boston, was blighted and effectively broke due after years of decline.

To make the city more liveable, Somerville City Hall offered to serve as an “experiential classroom” for students from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, who in turn helped staff implement municipal best practices.

The relationship has lasted more than a decade and led to numerous data-driven reforms of the city budget for transparency, 311 services and public works projects—all with student input.

“We’ve made overhauls to how we think about traffic and parking, customer service there,” says Daniel Hadley, the director of the city’s SomerStat program , in this video promoting the partnership. “We’ve made decisions about how to deploy parking meters and whether or not to build community centers.”

The budget of the city formerly known as Slumerville now uses infographics to detail spending decisions—an award-winning document used as a prop on the NBC sitcom “Parks & Rec.”

Analytics form the backbone of the city’s modern management style, which now successfully attracts 20- and 30-somethings, including some from the Kennedy School.

“What the city has done is it has changed the relationship between people who live there,” Linda Bilmes, senior lecturer at the Kennedy School, says in the video.

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(Photo by Todd Van Hoosear / )

Dave Nyczepir is News Editor for Government Executive’s Route Fifty.

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