11.914 | Spring 2007 | Graduate

Planning Communication



You and your teammates will deliver a 20-minute oral briefing, with an additional 10 minutes for questions and comments, the week of Ses #5 and Ses #6, to a group of invited guest briefees, as outlined below. DUSP faculty and fellow students may also be in attendance.


It is January 2010, and Tony Smart, the newly elected, soon-to-be-inaugurated Mayor of Boston is looking for advice. Smart is a former financial advisor and, by reputation, a family man who spoke often, during his campaign, about the importance of public space in the city. Elected on a platform to make Boston’s economy more vibrant but also more equitable for lower-income families, he has inherited, from predecessor Tom Menino, a major project on the Boston waterfront that faces an uncertain future. One reason for the uncertainty is the range of conflicts the project has generated among key interest groups in the city, including those who live or work near the waterfront.


As a result of the decommissioning of the United States Navy Yard in the 1970s, the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) was given ownership and control of a major portion of the Charlestown Navy Yard (CNY). Guidelines for the management and development of the CNY were drafted by the late 70s.

Current Status

In 2010, there are a few remaining parcels for development along the waterfront, including a last major waterfront parcel which is known as “Yard’s End” and which is referred to as the “Head of the Harbor” by waterfront activists, preservationists and Charlestown residents. This site has potential to accommodate major development in the CNY and there will be a range of interested developers, from Mass General Hospital, which already has a major research presence in the Yard, to private residential developers who will seek to put waterfront luxury condos on the site.

The BRA will set the program and development agenda for this site, which it owns. The BRA, as landowner and planning agency, has numerous interests. It wants to get the highest and best use for the site. At the same time, the BRA’s planning division also has the responsibility to actively engage stakeholders in a planning process that considers neighborhood, city-wide, and state concerns. These concerns include ensuring there is continuous open and public use and enjoyment of the Boston waterfront, that the uses and development of the site provide for adequate open space and gathering space along the waterfront, that the site provides for a very special waterfront use that is a “destination anchor” in the CNY, and that the uses help activate the entire waterfront of the CNY and lure some of the million visitors each year who visit the USS Constitution, an historic vessel located at the other end of the Yard.

Key players interested in the development and programming of this site include:

The BRA, with interests described above;

  • Neighborhood residents living near the CNY, who want a public use, mostly open space (if not all open space) on the site, and limited parking and traffic impacts from visitors.
  • Charlestown residents more broadly, who want to reverse the trend of private, upscale residential development and office/research uses in the Yard (which tend to send “messages” that the Yard is off limits for other Charlestown residents). Residents would like better connections to their neighborhood and more accessible places along the waterfront. During special events, overflow parking clogs neighborhood streets.
  • Preservationists, who want to keep the site open and use it to provide a historical context for the story of the Navy Yard and an open, inclusive gathering place for the public. They want to celebrate the “Head of the Harbor.”
  • The State’s Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM), which protects coastal and marine resources, wants to ensure the development fits its guidelines and the City of Boston Municipal Harbor Plan;
  • The Boston Harbor Association, a nonprofit group, wants to ensure public access, use and views of the site, enhanced water transportation, if possible, and vibrancy on the waterfront.
  • The National Park Service, which favors land uses that support its mission in the Historical Site of the CNY and that can help it strengthen its program of “interpretive offerings” and enhance visitorship to the Historical Site and image of the Yard.


You and your team represent a private planning firm retained informally, by a donor to the mayor’s transition team, to review the project and then make recommendations as to how the new mayor should proceed. Your team includes a former BRA senior planner, as well as professionals with experience in community organizing and development, urban design, and economic analysis and finance.

Your overall aim is to prepare the Mayor and members of his senior staff who are expected to attend the briefing, to: a) assess the current pluses and minuses of the proposed plan from the standpoint of design quality, political support, and economic viability; (b) articulate the goals and strategy of waterfront redevelopment in public over the next few months, given the pluses and minuses (as the Mayor gauges support for the approach he decides on and pursues this and other high-priority projects); and (c) begin to organize public and private players, including city agencies under the Mayor’s direction, to take appropriate next steps to implement. Read the beginning of that long sentence again: you’re not going to do those three things. Your role as an analytic team is to use the mechanism of a briefing to prepare the Mayor and his team to do so. He needs to understand his options in light of the project’s evolution to date, and in light of what’s at stake for the Boston waterfront and the city’s economy, and to weigh important tradeoffs before taking a public position.

The Mayor is well aware that a variety of challenges lie ahead, including political conflict and financial scarcity, but he needs a roadmap for addressing the challenges. More than anything, he’s looking for fresh perspective on what’s at stake on the Boston waterfront, given a strategic and nuanced understanding of the issues involved in the big CNY plan.


You are to prepare a briefing not to exceed 20 minutes (with an additional 10 minutes for questions and comments), for the Mayor-elect, members of his senior staff, and others that may be in attendance, such as trusted advisers helping to shape policies and staffing decisions as he takes office. The briefing will provide analysis and recommendations. The briefing will include a visual component (such as a Microsoft® PowerPoint® presentation) suitable for projection as well as handout. As with any professional briefing, the briefing should be responsive, informed, and flexible: You are not giving a speech but having an informed conversation with decisionmakers about multi-faceted problems. You can’t know everything about the case details or what the future will bring, and neither can the decisionmakers. The purpose of a briefing is to inform the best-possible decisions, given those constraints.

Since it is always possible that a briefing could be cancelled, postponed, or shortened on short notice, the handout/slide printout should function well as a “stand alone” to help the reader understand your message and its context. And you should hand this out, to each main briefee, at the beginning of your briefing. An appendix or other addenda are fine (at the back of the slide show handout). That is, you may wish to produce slides that you don’t plan to project as part of the main briefing if, for example, these additional slides provide valuable reference information or extensions to your ideas (Hint: having them available also gives you more options should questions get posed that take you beyond your core slides). But don’t turn the slide show handout into a major report, let alone a mere gallery of images. A main show of 12-15 slides will usually suffice for a briefing of this length, with perhaps 4-6 additional slides in an appendix, should you decide to include one.


The Mayor’s interests in Boston’s future, and in the political realities of city planning and development, are obviously broad (meaning: you could be asked questions beyond your immediate scope or the data at hand, or you could be asked to react, on the spot, to an idea spurred by your briefing). But through his just-appointed Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy and Planning, the Mayor has expressed interest in these questions and issues in particular (note that you may organize the briefing in any way you like as long as these questions are addressed):

  • Should the CNY waterfront plan, as defined under Mayor Menino, be carried forward? What should the overall goals of the redevelopment project be?
  • What elements of the project are most important for realizing those goals?
  • What’s fair in this context? How should the City seek to balance public and private interests in redevelopment of the waterfront?
  • Reality check: Is a worthwhile project actually fundable? Where will the money come from, and what pressures will public versus private sources–selling off land for private uses, for example–create?
  • What should the role of the BRA be in the project, particularly in light of (a) the internal conflicts that beset the agency and (b) the BRA’s external conflicts with community residents and others?
  • What are the keys to implementing effectively?


You and your team should use only the material provided for the course, including videos of our class meetings, and not do outside research. In addition, you may draw on key concepts about the ends and means of planning, or economic analyses of planning decisions, that were covered in 11.201 and 11.202, respectively, in the fall semester. You will present a “dry run” of your briefing, and submit a draft of your slide presentation (bring three hardcopies) after Ses #4. At the dry run, DUSP faculty will coach you on content (are the ideas clear? convincing? well organized?) as well as delivery (was it professional? engaging?), and you’ll have a few days, before your final briefing, to make changes and practice some more as a team.

Before your dry run, your team should post its slides to the class server, Homework section, so that we have easy access to the file in the classroom, for projection.

Do so again before the final briefing, in the Homework section, final briefing section.

For both the dry-run and final briefing, each team should also bring the file on a memory stick (as back-up).

For the final briefings, dress professionally, and bring six (6) copies of your handout (black-and-white copies are fine). Be mindful that briefees may need to arrive or depart during your briefing. This is common in professional life, especially when briefing senior decisionmakers, and it’s nothing personal. Don’t let it distract you.

Guidance and Data

In class, you’ll be briefed on the CNY project, the issues that confront the Boston waterfront more broadly, local government’s role, and the perspectives of a variety of nonprofit interest groups and public-private partnership organizations. You’ll also learn principles for running teams effectively and learn the do’s and don’ts of oral briefings. The primary materials for analysis are the case materials online, which include Boston and site-specific documents as well as resources on urban redevelopment and “placemaking” more broadly–material that you may or may not decide to incorporate directly in your briefing. Making these decisions is an important part of your groupwork.

Learning Resource Types
Lecture Notes
Presentation Assignments