From a policy perspective, although the MBTA is involved in programs that support the arts in stations, the bureaucratic process involved in acquiring a permit to create such a space is often labyrinthine and consequently excludes certain communities with limited access to government services.
By Joseph Manganiello, Harvard GSD
On an average weekday, Boston area residents and tourists take over one million trips on Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) trains. Day laborers, doctors, professors, artists, students, and individuals from all social, economic, and political spheres inhabit the same space concurrently, yet interaction between them is limited at best: a momentary glance, a shared smile while watching a performer. As a result, these societal strata are preserved (as Robert Putnam’s constrict theory explains) and any chance of solidarity across communities evaporates. How, then, to develop a space of solidarity within this diverse context? How can we hack policy to support this objective?
The design intervention is the creation of a living room on a metro platform. Items—including a comfortable chair, a plant, framed art, and other accessories—create an inviting space and jarring contrast to the sterile, impersonal metro station. The invitation to rest contrasts sharply with the MBTA’s stated mission of swiftly moving passengers to their destination and is founded on the notion that living rooms are primordial spaces for familial and neighborly solidarity. Local culture vis-à-vis human interactions can be taken into consideration when planning such interventions. A host would be present and a sign can clearly indicate that the purpose of the living room is to provide a platform for community discussion and awareness of other communities’ issues. Question prompts can include: What do you feel is a pressing concern in your community and why? How do you feel city services, including law enforcement, work for or against you? What moments in your day inspire happiness for you? Through discussions, members of different communities can increase awareness of neighbors’ concerns, identify areas of commonality, and, consequently, build solidarity.
From a policy perspective, although the MBTA is involved in programs that support the arts in stations, the bureaucratic process involved in acquiring a permit to create such a space is often labyrinthine and consequently excludes certain communities with limited access to government services. As Ash Amin explains, one can lay claim to a community only if one has basic rights and access. One option explored to “hack” MBTA’s policy procedures is obtaining a music performers permit, the process for which takes roughly five days, and using the performance space as a small living room (as was done for this project). As long as a permit holder’s space does not obstruct flow and adheres to regulations, it can provide a more accessible way to create this space of solidarity.
Joseph Manganiello is a Master in Public Policy candidate at the Harvard Kennedy School, where he is concentrating on social and urban policy. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in French and Italian from Middlebury College and has worked for the past several years for the US government as a foreign media specialist and an analyst on European socio-political issues, to include transnational radicalization and marginalization of first-and second‐generation immigrant communities. He studied abroad in France and Italy and has interned with the US State Department, the New York City Parks Commissioner, and Sesame Street. He is interested in food policy and enjoys soccer, squash, travel, and the outdoors.