Social Media Analytics Reveal Bostonian Opinion on Greenspace, Urban Development

The Charles River Conservancy Advocates for Pedestrian Underpasses Along the Charles River

When we take a deeper look at online conversations utilizing Crimson Hexagon’s social media analytics tool, ForSight™, we are usually interested in a national or global conversation.   This week, we are analyzing a conversation about greenspace and urban development right here in Boston for our Community Volunteer Project partner, the Charles River Conservancy.
Charles River Conservancy
For Crimson Hexagon’s Community Volunteer Program, we have volunteered with the Red Sox Foundation at Fenway Park and at Boston Children’s Hospital.  When the weather allows in the springtime, Crimson Hexagon will team up with the Charles River Conservancy, a nonprofit group “dedicated to the renewal and stewardship of the Charles River Parklands,” to help with riverside maintenance and enhancements.

Currently, the Charles River Conservancy (CRC) is advocating to include pedestrian underpasses in the planned renovations of the Anderson Memorial, Western Avenue, and River Street bridges on the Boston side of the river.  The CRC is currently coordinating letter-writing, publicity, and other efforts to gain support for the underpasses, which would increase safety and ease-of-use of the paths running along the Charles River.

These riverside paths are extremely popular in Boston.  But how do residents and tourists use the paths, and what do they think of them?

We also want to provide the CRC with insight into how well their advocacy message about the underpass initiative is being heard and spread among the public on social media.  They can use this information to plan and execute future advocacy efforts.

To answer these questions, we turned to the urban planner and developer’s new tool: social media.

Charles River Summary

Using keywords to pinpoint the discussion on Twitter about the Charles River and the areas and activities at the riverside, we captured more than 20,000 relevant opinions during the summer and early fall of 2012.  Among people tweeting about the Charles in Boston, most (35%) specifically discussed running and jogging along the river.  Cycling (26%) in Boston represents the next largest segment of the conversation.  Taken together, running and cycling constitute more than half of the overall conversation, indicating that they are extremely popular ways to enjoy Boston and, perhaps, to commute to work and school.

The relative popularity of running and cycling as riverside activities is underscored by the fact that very well attended events, the Fourth of July fireworks and concert at the Hatch Shell and the Head of the Charles Regatta, which were largely categorized as “Enjoying Outdoor Activities,” still represent less of the conversation than either running or cycling.  We also categorized tweets of Instagram pictures of the Charles River as “Enjoying Outdoor Activities.”

The strength of the “running” and “cycling” categories make a compelling argument for urban planning and real estate development that support the safety and ease of non-vehicular traffic, such as the underpass project.

Let’s take a closer look at the conversation about underpasses for the bridges connecting Boston and Cambridge.

Underpasses Trend

There are only a small number of posts about underpasses, until you reach the month of October, when the Charles River Conservancy launched its letter-writing campaign, using networks of runners, cyclists, and other path-users, along with its own member base.  Let’s magnify the trend for the underpasses category in October.

Underpasses October

Focusing in on a smaller date range, you see conversation in support of underpasses has three spikes in early and mid-October.  These increases in the conversation about underpasses correspond to publicity around the letter-writing campaign and a Boston-area running club’s efforts to help spread the word.

These advocacy efforts generated a long “tail” for this conversation; a small number of people are still tweeting about underpasses in November.

If you’re interested in pedestrian underpasses in Boston, visit the Charles River Conservancy’s advocacy page.

If you’d like to know more about how Crimson Hexagon can help you gain insights about a conversation that matters to your organization or evaluate the success of a media campaign, click here to request a demo of ForSight.

Follow us on Twitter to stay in touch: @crimsonhexagon.


Written by

As a sociologist and social media analyst bridging the academic and social media worlds, my aim is to analyze and interpret how people communicate in the public sphere.

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