20 of Boston’s best new big ideas and fresh faces
A can-do surgeon general, promoting body acceptance, better ACL repair, teaching millennials about money, and more.
The Red Sox went big with free-agent acquisitions last fall. Kung Fu Panda big. Asked whether he’ll keep his nickname in Boston, Sandoval joked that “the Panda is with me” and that the Sox got a “two-for-one deal.” Though it wasn’t cheap. With Sandoval signed to a reported five-year, $95 million deal, Red Sox fans hope the third baseman brings his All-Star skills and World Series-winning ways to the team. If he does, Red Sox Nation could become Panda Nation.
Better Protection for Bikers
Since trucks and city cyclists don’t mix well, the Boston City Council unanimously passed a Truck Side Guard Ordinance. The new road rule mandates that large trucks with city contracts have side guards that run between the wheels, which helps prevent cyclists from being swept underneath. The ordinance, the first of its kind in the country, also requires multiple mirrors and blind-spot-awareness decals for better visibility all around.
This pedal-powered bookmobile — a trailer pulled behind a bicycle — makes the rounds of farmers’ markets, arts festivals, and other city celebrations. The joint project between the Boston Public Library and Boston Bikes brings many BPL services, including library card sign-ups, book checkouts, demonstrations of BPL’s digital resources, and help with reference questions, directly to the people. In 2014, the Bibliocyle ran from early July through early November. It returns this spring.
Boston Parks’ Smoking Ban
Notice how cigar fumes are missing on Boston Common? To help clear the air, the city made it illegal as of December 30, 2013, to smoke “tobacco, marijuana, or any other material” in Boston’s 300-plus public parks, golf courses, and cemeteries. Signs went up immediately, and implementation has gone more or less smoothly. Boston Police have given out citation cards (a warning) to violators, but no one’s yet been hit with the $250 fine.
A Connected Carry-On
When traveling, luggage anxiety comes with the territory. Now, thanks to MIT Sloan student Brian Chen and his cofounders, Bluesmart is here to help. Expected to retail for $450, the smartphone-connected carry-on comes with plenty of app-activated features. Digitally controlled lock? Check. GPS locator? Check. Trip data tracker? Check. Scale? Check. Built-in battery for charging devices? Check. To move from prototype to mass production, Bluesmart quickly raised more than $1.7 million on Indiegogo. Next up? Takeoff.
Going Wi-Fi Free
When Dwelltime, the Cambridge flagship of Barismo coffee roasters, turned off the Wi-Fi signal on weekends last March, it took regulars awhile to adjust. But now the shop has gone entirely Wi-Fi free, making visits to Dwelltime (364 Broadway, Cambridge, 617-714-5536, dwelltimecambridge.com) less about screen time and more about face time as people engage in conversation. As patrons sip their macchiatos during weekend brunch, the staff spins vinyl by the likes of Della Reese and David Bowie on the turntable. It’s hi-fi instead of Wi-Fi.
Growing Alzheimer’s Brain Cells in a Lab
Neuroscientists from Mass. General have discovered a new way to study Alzheimer’s disease: by re-creating it in a petri dish. Until now, researchers could only study the disorder using lab animals, but the disease process in mice isn’t the same as in people. Now, after creating gene-mutated neural networks in the lab, researchers Rudolph E. Tanzi and Doo Yeon Kim have found they can watch the disease’s progression as it takes place in human subjects. Their results, published in the journal Nature in October, should help speed the development of Alzheimer’s drugs.
Late-Night T Service
Could Boston finally join the ranks of great late-night cities? Last March the MBTA pushed the closing time for subways, The Ride, and 15 popular bus routes from 12:30 a.m. to 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. So far, the one-year trial period has been deemed a success, with summer ridership of about 21,000 per weekend during extended hours. Night owls and business owners alike are hoping that the service continues.
A New Kind of ACL Repair
Granted FDA approval for human trials in 2014, Dr. Martha Murray forged ahead with a less-invasive option for ACL repairs. Instead of the tendon-grafting procedure now commonplace, she uses a sponge scaffold with the “right biologic cues” to bridge the two ends of the torn knee ligament. The scaffold helps the ligament heal itself. With ACL tears one of the most common knee injuries, Murray’s approach could help lots of patients, especially the young athletes she treats at Boston Children’s Hospital.
Pay Adjuncts What They’re Worth
It takes full-time knowledge to teach part time, but adjunct professors usually make a fraction of their full-time colleagues. Last fall, the adjunct faculty at Tufts University’s School of Arts and Sciences was the first in an SEIU campaign involving more than 20 Boston-area colleges to successfully negotiate a contract with employers. The three-year agreement gives adjuncts a significant pay boost and provides a semblance of year-to-year security for those meeting certain requirements.
Putting a Dollar Figure on the Arts Scene
The 18,275,779 people who patronize Boston arts and cultural organizations each year would fill Fenway Park 488 times over. That’s just one eye-opening finding in the 2014 Arts Factor report (artsboston.org/page/artsfactor), an ArtsBoston research initiative sponsored by Bank of America to gauge the impact of arts and culture on Greater Boston. The bottom line is $1.45 billion in economic activity — and a priceless boost to the quality of life. The data make a powerful case for the return on investment in the arts.
Certified life coach Rachel Estapa works on confidence building and self-acceptance with plus-size women like herself. Expanding the definition of what healthy and happy can be, the Somerville resident created a 28-day More to Love class, which has proved a popular online course with participants from as far away as South America and Australia. Daily exercises encourage reflection and action around common body issues, which are then shared in a private, supportive online social group of peers. The next class at moretolovewithrachel.com is set to begin January 20.
The Cape Cod Baseball League and the New England Collegiate Baseball League witnessed a rarity in 2014. Not on the field, but on the edge of the diamond, where Robin Wallace tracked up-and-coming players. Traveling New England, the Newburyport-based Wallace worked as the only female full-time scout for the Major League Baseball Scouting Bureau. The former Little Leaguer and US Women’s National Team player was busy with her own law practice when MLB invited her to Scout School. It was on to the big leagues from there.
Sharing Mental Health Notes with Patients
Last March, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center started giving more than 650 mental health patients (and now more than 1,000) online access to what their clinicians were writing about them. That transparency was a giant step for BIDMC’s OpenNotes initiative, which previously gave patients access only to notes dealing with physical ailments. The program has been a success on multiple fronts, resulting in more precise and thoughtful notes by health care providers and better understanding by patients.
Teaching Millennials About Money
Colleges aren’t known for requiring courses in financial savvy, so many students graduate without knowing how to invest, buy real estate, or negotiate a higher starting salary. That’s where the Society of Grownups steps in. This Brookline storefront and website (1653 Beacon Street, Brookline, 617-505-3636, societyofgrownups.com) is run by experts who will give your finances a look-see, then help you figure out how to fund your dreams — whether it’s grad school, buying a house, or figuring out how to afford a family of your own. They also offer short lessons, such as one on how wines and investments get better with age, that help ensure you’ll never find a reason to skip class.
Traffic Signal Labeling in Supermarkets
We all know that green means go and red means stop. So when customers were zooming into his store to buy drinks, Alberto Calvo wanted them to make healthier choices. Calvo, president of the Stop and Compare Supermarket in Chelsea, partnered with Mass. General doctor Anne Thorndike and Eric Rimm from the Harvard School of Public Health to implement food labels that give a green light to the lowest calorie beverages, yellow signs for less healthy choices, and red for drinks filled with extra sugars. Both store employees and customers are making healthier choices, says Calvo. More supermarkets should follow suit.
After more than a year of foot-dragging, the US Senate finally confirmed Dr. Vivek Murthy of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School as the nation’s surgeon general in December. The 37-year-old top doc, who did his undergrad work at Harvard and earned MD and MBA degrees from Yale, brings a can-do record to Washington, having cofounded an HIV/AIDS educational organization, a clinical-trials software company, and the advocacy group Doctors for America.
BOSTON’S NEW CHIEFS
> A lot of new talent is working to make Boston City Hall a more diverse and better-connected place. The city’s first chief diversity officer, Shaun Blugh, is charged with making the faces of city government look more like the faces of the city.
> Meanwhile, Boston’s first chief digital officer, Lauren Lockwood, is shaking up the city’s social-media and website interactions with residents.
> The Cabinet-level appointment of Julie Burros as Boston’s first chief of arts and culture in 20 years gives the arts community an insider voice in making policy.