Unlock Boston

Luca Shapiro

What if you could uncover the most intriguing and little-known stories of a city with just a tap of you fingers? Unlock Boston, an interactive documentary will make the hidden history of Boston come to life in a new and accessible way.


Unlock Boston is an interactive documentary series about the fascinating and all-but-forgotten stories of one of America's oldest cities. From a deadly flood of molasses that buried Boston’s waterfront to a book bound wholly in the skin of a convicted thief, the city is full of history that has been lost to time. Each story, told through a dedicated video segment, is accessed by a point of interest on the map. Unlock Boston is distributed online and as a mobile application. The technology could also be adapted to dedicated kiosks placed around the city. My goal is to enrich the relationship Bostonians have to their own city by altering their perspective of the places they pass every day.

Research was a central component of this project. I read dozens of books about the history of Boston and guidebooks to the city, from which I culled the most interesting and unusual stories. Once I had selected the stories, I did more in-depth research, consulting both secondary and primary sources. I wanted to be certain that the information in the documentary is accurate and trustworthy. Hiye and I conducted competitor research. We navigated competitors' websites and test-drove mobile apps. We studied the methods of content delivery, functionalities, and designs of each competitor. I wanted to make sure the project was unique, but I also wanted to learn from the successes and failures of services that use similar functionality. This research was incredibly valuable as I moved into the design phase.

My target audience is Boston residents who are looking to learn more about the city. The stories are little-known, even to most Boston natives. Tourists and visitors are the secondary audience.

User Scenario
A Boston resident wants to enrich her experience in the city, so she visits unlock-boston.com. She learns new stories about locations she knows well, like the Boston Common and the Public Library. But she also uncovers new places she didn't know existed, like the corner where a tragic molasses flood occurred in 1919. When she goes out into the city, she feels a deeper connection to the people and places around her.

The web version of Unlock Boston is built with Python and hosted on an ec2 server. The map was built with a service called Mapbox, which uses Open Street Maps data. The mobile version was built on the Android platform with the Google Maps API. I shot the contemporary footage of each location with a Canon 5D, and I edited the stories in Final Cut Pro. I created the special effects with Illustrator, Photoshop, and After Effects.

Working on this project transformed my relationship to Boston, my hometown. Not only did I learn so much about the history of the city, but I also developed a deeper connection to Boston's culture, past and present. It’s said that each of us -- no matter where we live-- share a bond with every person in the world simply because we’re all alive at this same moment. If you think of this as a circular connection, there’s a different, linear connection that’s equally as compelling. It’s the link we have to those who lived before us and through circumstance or choice walked the same streets, passed the same landmarks, maybe even lived or worked within the same walls. Unlock Boston highlights and facilitates this connection.