Downtown Crossing Public Realm Analysis

We analyzed anonymized mobile device data in aggregate to generate a high resolution view of the Downtown Boston Business Improvement District.

Downtown Boston, particularly in the blocks surrounding the Downtown Crossing nexus of transit and activity, is one of the most complex urban conditions in the region. The Downtown Boston BID engaged Supernormal to look more closely at the real users and use patterns of the district, to understand how to better serve these citizens and businesses through improvements in the public realm.


Median age and patterns of concentration.

This diagram shows the median age across all collected data at each point within Downtown Crossing. These findings suggest that the Winter-Summer Street corridor is a meeting location for the young population using the Theatre District to the southwest and the older population who work in the Financial District to the northeast. There is an opportunity here to pull cultural programming and uses from the Theatre District into the underperforming pedestrian zone, which currently hosts a narrow range of daytime retail uses. Capitalizing on the close proximity to older users who tend to leave the district before 7pm via public transit, the BID could also promote early evening food and drink opportunities to capture and hold daily commuters as they leave the district.


The reach of Downtown Crossing.

For the metropolitan Boston region, areas where devices that appear in Downtown Crossing at least once appear more frequently.

Change over time


Activity in the public realm.

The importance of the public realm is underscored by evidence that a significantly higher percentage of activity is hosted on the streets instead of inside buildings.


Activity benchmarked by intersection.

Density of mobile activity within 100 feet of sequential Downtown Crossing intersections along Washington Street.

Turning data into design

Beyond an improved overall understanding of activity types, levels, and demographics within the site, actionable patterns in the data include high levels of activity measured along the Winter-Summer Street corridor and low levels of pause and social space along this same route. In contrast, data shows an absence of activity and heightened safety issues along Washington Street. By combining such observations with improved knowledge about gaps in activity during certain times of the day, we can target “low-hanging fruit” and create strategic design, use, and planning recommendations.


Specific recommendations include bringing managed and regular multi-modal traffic back onto Washington Street, which can also host retail loading. The Summer-Winter corridor can remain pedestrian-only with added elements to increase friction and encourage lingering during and beyond the evening commute. One particularly long and blank facade along an introverted department store ground floor can be broken up by expanding existing and minimal display windows into a street-facing cafe. Additionally, a more significant display program could invite public art to enliven the less active Summer Street edges and extend the Theatre District into the heart of Downtown Crossing.

The overall goal is to use improved quantitative methods to improve the experience of the public realm.


Graph (above) and map (below) of data density describing use and activity levels over an average weekday.


Diagrammatic recommendations

The Summer-Winter corridor (in red) is bounded by Washington Street below and the Boston Common above. The common is represented by Charles Hubbard's "The National Lancers with the Reviewing Officers on Boston Common."


Downtown Boston Business Improvement District


Completed 2017


Will Cohen, Elizabeth Christoforetti, Stephen Rife, and Yonatan Cohen