Networked Urbanism

design thinking initiatives for a better urban life

Design critics: Belinda Tato and Jose Luis Vallejo, principals of Ecosistema Urbano


How can I promote knowledge of space that is specific to actually being in the space? For the most part, we’re introduced to different spaces by someone who already has that knowledge. Originally I was trying to find a way to enable access and knowledge of space via social networking, apps, etc. through locally generated user content. However as the project has progressed, I’ve zeroed in the idea of “Boston” and its “spaces” as taught/shown by professional tour guides. Where do they get their information? Are their tours edited in any way by the corporate tour operators? Are they even from Boston? What do they think is missing from the tour? What if they had to give a tour to an audience of locals? Is authenticity of the experience/showing/teaching of Boston irrelevant?

Where is this going? I’m preoccupied with 2 questions: 1. Are visitors to Boston who do NOT desire the “knowledge of urban spaces” achieved by actually being there learning anything that is authentic or ideosyncratic about Boston specifically? Can you learn a city from the back of a duck boat? 2. The mirror to this would be; are visitors to Boston who use services like airbnb or yelp perhaps to have a more “authentic” experience of a city missing out as well? Regular local friends or tour guides aren’t going to take visitors to the “usual” spaces, but aren’t these spaces part of an “authentic” Boston experience too? Can you learn a city by ignoring its major, popular attractions?


There are at least 6 major tour operators in the city of Boston with maps and advertisements in major Back Bay hotels; the Marriot, the Westin and the Sheraton. On Sunday I visited the hotels and picked up every map and tour brochure available. (I was actually in the lobby of the Marriot when the Dalai llama arrived – thrilling!) The tours fall into mainly 3 categories; walking, on-off trolley loops where you’re encouraged to hop on and off the trolley and explore on your own, and motorized land-sea vehicle tours. There are other, more specialized tours where bikes or even Segways are used to get around.

I chatted with Deb, the desk representative for Old Towne Trolley tours and told her I was a local. Old Towne Trolley tours is actually a chain that operates in several cities. I asked Deb if she knew how Old Towne had plotted the route for their tour but she didn’t know. Interestingly an email I received back from Boston Duck Tours President and CEO Cindy Brown made the same claim. But I’ve been in contact with the founder of Cambridge Historical tours Daniel Berger-Jones and am trying to arrange and interview to specifically address this question. I’m also hoping he can connect me with more actual tour guides to interview.

I also visited the Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau unannounced & with no appointment but couldn’t get past the front desk. I did collect the names of a few people there who might be helpful with background information about how Boston is “marketed” to visitors.

As it was raining and I’m broke, I did not take a Duck Tour (30$ bucks!) nor did I visit Cheers. Yet.

I’ve established a few good connections and am following up with interviews this week.

GSD-Academic – Judith Grant Long Associate Professor of Urban Planning who studies the planning and effects of tourism on cities. Robert Pietrusko who will hopefully help me represent all this digitally/visually.

Corporate Tour Operators – Cindy Brown, President & CEO of Boston Duck Tours, Debi Jo Michael, Rick Steves’ Europe – Tour Operations & Planning,
Daniel Berger-Jones, Founder Cambridge Historical Tours

Background/Big Picture – Mike Healy, GSD Student and former tourism professional/tour guide, Pam Frechette, Visitor Marketing Manager Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau

I’ve also been down to Duck Tours twice and had some informal chats with tour guides and tour workers.

Next steps will be gathering expert info from my connections, mapping the tour routes and researching alternative stops, sights, spaces and developing my tour guide interview questions.

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