How NYC’s Public Sector Is Tackling Innovation

In New York City, the goal to merge innovation with government is apparent on various fronts. This objective has been about a decade in the making, and while we’re only scratching the service of its potential, NYC has made great strides.

For various reasons, the public sector often lags behind when it comes to technology and innovation. While some of such reasons are valid, the tendency can be overcome. Opportunities aplenty lie in wake, especially on a city level where governments have more autonomy.

Partnering with the private sector is the best strategy thus far for bringing innovative solutions to public sector issues. Following are some of the most notable ways NYC’s public sector is bringing innovation into its governing, and what this means for the future of city government.

NYC’s Office of Tech and Innovation

In 2014, New York City’s Mayor’s Office of Tech and Innovation (MOTI) was launched. According to their website, the office “facilitates citywide coordination and collaboration on technology issues, serves as a catalyst for and advises agencies on innovation, and interacts with the wider New York City technology ecosystem.”

The office was started by Mayor De Blasio, who made it his mission to help New York City become the most innovative city in the world. Whether you love or hate De Blasio, this initiative has already made a measurable impact in its creation of tech-driven public initiatives.

The idea, according to the Mayor’s office, is to “expand economic opportunity and reinvent government for the 21st century.” MOTI’s website continues, “We will continue to attract the top talent to New York City, deepen our efforts to grow and foster local talent through education and workforce development programs.”

It should be mentioned that New York City has been leaning into private-public partnerships long before De Blasio. As one example, NYC BigApp competitions have been happening annually since 2009, challenging “developers, designers, and entrepreneurs to create functional, marketable tech tools that help solve pressing civic challenges.”

Innovative Projects

What BigApp has been accomplishing for seven years is similar to what MOTI is currently undertaking in different city departments. The city puts out calls for innovation (CFIs) and accepts proposals from individuals, startups, and companies.

CFIs are “an open solicitation of ideas and proposals that aims to help define the urban challenges facing our city.” There are currently several CFIs: two from the New York City Housing Authority, seeking solutions for electrical and heating issues, one from the NYC Department of Education, seeking data models for public schools, and one seeking ideas to bring broadband internet to all New Yorkers.

Besides from CFIs, MOTI has over a dozen innovative projects underway already. One of these is LinkNYC, “a system of 7,500+ high-tech public communications structures that….will each provide completely free, ultra-high speed encrypted Wi-Fi service (up to 1 Gigabit in speed) out to a radius of 150 feet….[and] provide free domestic phone calls, free emergency 911 calls and non-emergency 311 calls, and free cell phone charging stations.”

Other projects include the Department of Transportation’s Midtown in Motion, a program meant to improve traffic using sensors and data collection; the NYPD’s IdeaScale pilot project, which allows neighborhood residents submit issues they want addressed by their local precincts; and the Department of Education’s Short Cycle Evaluation Challenge, which lets educators pilot new edtech products.

Looking to the future

As we push further into the future, technology is quickly, and inevitably, following suit. We will all be in good shape is the government stays as up-to-date as possible. When innovation is saturated in both the public and private sector, and the two work together to public benefit, the economy and people will thrive as a result. NYC is a great example of this theory in action, and hopefully other cities will follow its example.

By |2020-05-07T19:09:37+00:00March 21st, 2017|Culture, Technology, Urban Planning|

What New York City Could Learn from Toronto About Sustainability

When it comes to cities, the word sustainable comprises much more than the environmental connotation acquired in recent decades. As any cement-pounding city dweller can attest, sustainable applies to basic living conditions, as well as environmentally-friendly practices. So it makes sense to assess cities’ sustainability in terms of residents. After all, what qualifies a city as a city, if not for the people?

Cities must not only retain but attract people: to persist and grow, to pay for services provided, and even to turn a profit. So it also makes sense to score cities on financial stability.

And beyond its residents and economic standing, cities have to adapt. In the current climate, that urban adaptation often takes the form of environmental policy.

So while cities have been coined green and smart, what really makes a city sustainable?

Recent surveys generally give scores in three categories: people, planet, and profit, according to Arcadis’s Sustainable Cities Index, assembled by the London-based Center for Economics and Business Research. No city has managed to perfectly balance these three tentpoles yet. As more and more people gravitate toward urban centers, that sweet spot remains a moving target. Factors like population growth and climate change affect a city’s sustainability score from year-to-year, and though circumstances seem to primarily impact one target, the three are closely intertwined. Hence, the Sustainable Cities Index, intended to reflect a city’s overall health: “not to create a hierarchy of elite cities,” emphasizes John Batten, Arcadis’s Global Director of Water and Cities, “but to indicate areas of opportunity.”

The necessity of comparison brings us back to examination of the term city. Although you can compose a checklist of characteristics that constitute a city, no entity of that name will reflect those characteristics in quite the same way. In a column tracking minimum population, for example, you may see similar numbers, but not the wildly varying demographics they represent.

Again, John Batten puts these statistics in perspective: “‘Cities have unique identities that are heavily influenced by their cityscape, economy and culture. Some cities, particularly established European cities such as Zurich which tops our index, are positioned within a moderate climate and have an economically balanced population which gives them a clear advantage when it comes to their sustainability. Others have to deal with issues including extreme climates, rapid urbanization and lack of financial resources which can hold them back.’”

So, with all these disclaimers about awarding cities of all shapes and sizes with number scores that constitute a somewhat arbitrary measure of sustainability, how can these cities take cues from each other? Specifically, what can the relatively high-scoring New York City learn from the similarly successful Toronto?

The Sustainable Cities Index operates on a scale from 100, and Zurich tops the charts with a score near 75. New York is ranked overall 26th out of 100 cities surveyed, and Toronto comes in at 33rd. However, the cities’ scores are not far off from each other: New York scored 62.9% overall, and Toronto 61.7%. And while New York earned the title of most sustainable North American city for 2016, Toronto held that title in 2015, for the first Sustainable Cities Index report.

The cities’ sub-scores reveal a more detailed makeup: in the people category, Toronto actually beat New York, with a sub-score of 62.3% compared to New York’s 53.4%, placing them 40th and 77th out of 100 cities. They scored similarly in the planet section: Toronto at 68.1% and New York at 66.1%, ranking 28th and 33rd in this category. The profit category explains why New York outranks Toronto on the Index: New York scored 69.3% in this category and Toronto scored 54.8%, leaving them at 8th and 38th in this section.

So if New York is to look to Toronto for ways to improve its sustainability score, the planet and particularly the people sub-scores give some indication. Each city’s rating in the people sub-section is comprised of scores in several sub-categories: education, health, demographics, income inequality, affordability, work-life balance, and crime. The biggest discrepancies between Toronto and New York can be found in income inequality (10.7% > 6.5%); crime (13.2 % > 10.1%); and affordability (7.1% > 0.2%).

The planet sub-score is based on environmental risks, green spaces, energy, air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, waste management, drinking water and sanitation. The most significant differences between Toronto and New York here are environmental risks (9.9% > 7.6%); energy (8.6% > 6.5%); and air pollution (13.4% > 12.1%).

Toronto has been especially successful in energy efficiency, waste management, and water. Toronto is one of the top three cities for ensuring a robust, effective, and healthy water supply, while New York’s resources are considered more vulnerable. Indeed, the report highlights some of New York’s perceived weaknesses, including poverty, an overburdened transportation infrastructure, and rising sea levels forecasting more storms, flooding, and other natural disasters.

Toronto, on the other hand, will have to deal with a 25% population increase expected in the next 15 years. “According to a report presented by the city, Toronto has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 25% since 1990 and expects to improve that number to 30% by 2030 even amid the city`s population growth, which has seen the metropolitan area swell to six million as of February 2015.”

Hopefully these sustainability assessments and metrics encourage cities around the globe to learn from each other and the myriad issues faced by such complex cosmopolitan organisms in the coming century.

By |2018-10-31T17:56:21+00:00November 17th, 2016|Technology, Urban Planning|