Boston Redevelopment Authority changes aimed at transparency

Martin Desmarais | 5/21/2014, 9:56 a.m.

The administration of Mayor Martin Walsh announced changes to the Boston Redevelopment Authority last week officials say will bring greater transparency to the development process.

Brian Golden, acting director of the BRA, said the city felt an important step in improving its main development authority was to get information out to the public earlier in the development and approval process.

“Some of the controversy associated with the work that we do is because it is not well understood,” Golden said. “It is a real problem if there is no understanding and it makes it easier for people to infer the worst about us. In the 21st century one of the best ways to address people’s concerns that we are not open and transparent enough it to leverage technology to help shed a light on the BRA and what we do and how we do it.”

The city is focusing on using the BRA’s website as a better window into the approval process. In this way, the door is being opened to BRA board meeting votes, city zoning, available contracts, awarded bids and data on current Boston development.

A first step is making the BRA board meeting board memos available online 48 hours before monthly meetings. The board memos outline the final details of development projects, planning studies, development designations and other info that the BRA uses to make decisions. In the past, board meeting memos were not available until after meetings, meaning that the public was largely in the dark about what was being discussed.

The board memos, as well as meeting agendas, will also be tied in with the live video feed of meetings that is available via City of Boston TV. After meetings viewers can navigate through the video using the board memos and agenda and jump directly to the video that corresponds with the items they are interested in.

Requests for proposals, requests for quotations and contract bids for all Boston development projects will now all be available through a search engine that filters the information by status of project. Companies can also sign up for an email service that will provide updates when new requests and bids become available. The BRA will also create sub-contractor registration to reference those involved in projects.

The BRA is now sharing the data about development in Boston, including the total value of projects that are currently under construction and in the pipeline, on the Boston About Results page of the City of Boston website. The information will be displayed with open data graphs and metrics, and will appear alongside the data of several other City of Boston agencies. The platform includes additional metrics such as total square footage of development under construction in Boston, construction jobs created by new development, and total construction costs for all BRA-approved projects.

Lastly, the BRA has updated its BRA Zoning Viewer to give additional access to zoning and planning information for any area of the city.

Golden admits that in the past the public “really had to work to see what was going on” with the BRA’s development process, which often meant trekking down to BRA offices to look through paper documents and attending many meetings in person. This triggered criticism that certain actions and decisions were happening with little public knowledge.