To construct San Francisco’s Central Subway Project, TBMs, or tunnel boring machines, were brought into downtown to bore a 1.5-mile tunnel between SoMa and Chinatown. But before any boring began, the TBMs had to be named. According to tunneling tradition, naming TBMs brings good luck to tunneling project.
Sensing an opportunity, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency invited the public to vote on two names for the two TBMs used for the project. The names were drawn from significant women figures in San Francisco’s history, and in the end, two names were chosen:
- “Mom Chung,” the country’s first female Chinese American physician who practiced in San Francisco; and
- “Big Alma,” a 19th century San Franciscan philanthropist.
From a public relations perspective, SFMTA made a brilliant move. Opening the naming of the TBMs to public vote was not only fun and culturally meaningful, but it also provided the project with much needed public buy-in. The project’s financial burdens took a backseat to excitement over the TBMs’ names, as did concerns over the future of the TBMs after their work is done.
From a marketing perspective, SFMTA executed their plan very well. They announced the voting through printed media, as well as an online press release, email campaigns, and a blog. Now, the TBMs each even have their own twitter accounts (@BigAlmaTheTBM and @MomChungTheTBM) through which San Franciscans can track the progress of the project. In a city full of tech startups like San Francisco, SFMTA’s plan, if sustained, will succeed in creating a new and creative way of utilizing social media to the benefit of city planning.
Do you know of any other successful campaigns other cities have run alongside their major development projects?
Credits: Images and data linked to sources.