NYC Youth Taking the Reins of Civics, Culture and Community

This generation and the next have large shoes to fill–and extra work to do–when it comes to maintaining the culture, history, and integrity of cities like New York. As time goes by, any community’s essence can be eroded if it isn’t preserved and enhanced. That doesn’t seem to be the case in New York City, where public initiatives, institutions, and charity projects are encouraging young people to take an active interest in their communities.

It takes a passion for civic engagement, culture, and history to ensure a brighter future and a remembered past. It can be a challenge to light such ambitions in young people, and while many older millennials are already on board, teenagers remain especially difficult to reach.

Getting young people involved and dedicated to their city early on is key. Luckily, it seems we’re already nurturing an active and informed youth that will eventually take the reigns when it comes to the betterment of NYC.

Civic engagement

When we think of who is involved on community boards, it’s often an older crowd that comes to mind, and for good reason—one community board in the Bronx, for example, is comprised half of members over age 50. Recently there has been a push for diversity on NYC community boards, and a bill passed to bring down the age limit to 16. Since this bill, five 16- and 17-year olds were appointed in the Bronx, six in Manhattan, and eight in Brooklyn.

Teens bring a unique perspective to the table when it comes to community betterment. They have insight into issues older board members may not, and can bring fresh solutions to the table as well. The hope is that such involvement will not only add depth to the boards, but kickstart young careers in public service.

The problem is that while young people are idealistic and want to change the world, few want to do so through public service. Young people are disenchanted by the political system, and it’s not hard to see why given today’s political climate. Polarization is rampant and hostility high during an election between two historically disliked candidates. Local politics may be slightly better, but numbers indicate that youth would prefer to get involved elsewhere.

We’ll see if the encouragement of groups like Generation Citizen will empower more students to become engaged and effective citizens with bright futures in the political realm.

Cultural institutions

Beyond politics, young people developing interest in cultural institutions will help keep art and culture in New York City at the forefront of its evolution. As the cultural capital of the country, New York City is defined by its many museums and cultural hubs.

In September, The New York City Department of Cultural Affairs began an initiative to improve the involvement and diversity at the city’s cultural institutions by financing paid internships for students. Many of these kids will be lower-income or minority students, adding even greater sense of diversity into the equation. According to Cultural Affairs commissioner, Tom Finkelpearl, “The idea is not to just expose people in the short term, but encourage the institutions to stay in touch with these young people, foster their growth, and maybe hire them in the long run.”

Cultural institutions and periphery organizations and businesses have been doing their part to get young people involved as well. For example, the National AfterSchool Association partnered with 19 institutions across all five boroughs to sponsor experiential, educational events through a program called Adventures in Innovation. Activities that stimulate curiosity in young minds are good for the future of these institutions and the youth they inspire.

Museums like the Guggenheim are also increasingly courting the Millennial generation as future trustees and donors. By hosting events like the Young Collectors Party, cultural institutions can get young people involved early in a path toward board membership. Says Ford W. Bell, president of the American Alliance of Museums, “The generational shift is something a lot of museums are talking about….The traditional donors are either dying, stepping back or turning it over to their children or grandchildren.”

Charities & Volunteering

Lastly, cities like New York will always thrive when its citizens, old and young, involve themselves in charity work. Unfortunately, volunteering rates have been dropping over the years and it’s not clear exactly why.

There are several hypotheses on white might be keeping younger generations from charity work. For one, youth are often financially constrained, which would certainly hold them back from making donations. This is especially true in NYC where cost of living and education high.  Secondly, technology and social media have become the new normal, potentially rendering in-person volunteering obsolete and uncomfortable.

How do we overcome these potential issues? Charity has changed, becoming increasingly mobile, so nonprofits that can make digital donations easy will have better luck reaching Millennials. Programs that provide educational and career incentives for volunteer work are also key.

Because younger generations are idealists, they want their contributions to count. As a result, nonprofits are courting young startups, many of which are run by millennials, with partnerships. In New York City, businesses that align themselves with causes attract young talent, allowing young people “give back” in a way that doesn’t interfere with busy work schedules.

All things considered, it appears that New York City’s youth have the ability to step up with the help of some great initiatives. It’s clear that New Yorkers of every generation love their city and want to see it thrive beyond our time–if we all work together to preserve and enhance our communities, there is no doubt NYC will continue to be as rich in culture as it is influential and unique. But youngsters, take note: the city won’t maintain itself.

By |2018-10-31T18:02:07+00:00February 21st, 2017|Culture, Philanthropy|

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 |2020-11-05T19:51:51+00:00November 17th, 2016|Technology, Urban Planning|

How CompStat Helps Cut Crime in New York City

Many businesses today make use of a performance management system to achieve their revenue goals. In 1994, the New York Police Department adopted a similar system to reduce crime and ensure the police department was maximizing its efforts. This computerized tool, called CompStat, works to track some of the most serious crimes in New York City by analyzing statistics and researching patterns and trends. Here’s a closer look at how CompStat helps cut crime in NYC:

How CompStat Works

CompStat, otherwise known as COMPuter STATistics and short for Computer Comparison Statistics, is a complete organizational management tool that provides a dynamic approach to crime reduction and resource management within the New York City Police Department. It was created by Jack Maple, a Transit police officer in New York City and originally tracked crime through push pins stuck in a map, a process that helped to reduce subway crime. It was later adopted by the NYPD and rebranded as CompStat.

CompStat is comprised of four key components that can be replicated by other police departments: timely and accurate information or intelligence; rapid deployment of resources; effective tactics; and relentless follow-up. The problem-solving tools and system includes weekly crime control strategy meetings to increase accountability; development of commander profile reports; crime strategy meetings at the Command and Control Center with representatives of District Attorney’s Offices in attendance; crime mapping and database collection systems.

CompStat Data

The entire CompStat system is entirely data-based. As a result, it is dependent on accurate information gathering and data entry. Management decisions cannot be made without timely and accurate information so those involved with sourcing and reporting data need to follow very specific protocol and adhere to certain processes. All employees are expected to act upon this data and everything is accessible by various departments. When a problem must be solved with the involvement of another government agency, such as at the county level with the Sheriff’s Department or at the state level at the Department of Corrections, the data must be accessible by all.

Value of CompStat

In an article published back in 2002, Garry McCarthy, deputy of commissioner of operations at the New York Police Department, explained how CompStat had taken over the New York City Police Department and was a critical component of the agency. It was, and continues to be, a valuable business management tool for the agency since it helps to organize information using different performance indicators and identify areas of improvement. Over the years, it has evolved into a complete system that allows for accurate measurement of all activities and accountability within the police department.

Since its implementation, CompStat has helped to track many major crimes, including murder, rape, robbery, shooting incidents and grand larceny. It can also track minor crimes, including public drinking and prostitution. However, one of the biggest benefits of this system is that it also keeps track of police officials. If a police officer is guilty of misconduct or there is enough reason to believe that a police officer is playing an accomplice to a crime, everything can be reported and tracked within the system.

Ultimately, CompStat helps police officers hold each other accountable and everyone is documented and analyzed. The reports are stored in the database and made available to all precincts for review. This creates a greater degree of transparency and helps all officers and officials better understand the overall impact of their efforts.

Effects of CompStat

According to a study by the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University’s School of Law, CompStat-style programs adopted by police departments across the country have contributed to a 5 to 15 percent decrease in crime. Between 1994 and 2012, CompStat has been credited for reducing 63 percent of crime in New York City.

Many police departments are also adopting cloud technology and developing custom software programs that allow for more accurate predictive analysis, documentation and tracking. For example, some police departments can make use of a cloud-based software program that generates predictive maps of where crimes are likely to occur so police officials can allocate resources accordingly.  

Since its implantation in the mid-90s, CompStat has help cut crime in NYC and has been readily adopted by several other cities across the country. It has helped many police departments streamline operations and obtain accurate data about current and potential crimes. Today, many police departments continue to use CompStat in conjunction with other software programs and cloud-based technologies to fight crime effectively. We can only hope that this evolving technology continues to keep communities and officers safe — and crime rates low — in the years to come.

By |2018-10-31T17:48:35+00:00October 18th, 2016|Culture, Technology|

How Self-Driving Cars Would Transform New York City

Self-driving cars developed by the likes of Google and Tesla are generating a lot of buzz as their wheels are tested and designs refined. While it’s difficult to imagine driverless cars in a New York City — a city defined by its traffic jams and vocal drivers — all signs point to their eventual introduction. But what exactly would that look like? The vehicle and pedestrian congestion levels of NYC would make the adoption difficult, to say the least.

Self-driving cars universally raise questions regarding safety, legislation, mass transit, and environmental and human impact, not to mention their inevitable impact on gas prices. Add to that list the volume of foot traffic in New York City, the city’s well-established taxi fleet, and a massive public transit system, and you end up with an interesting conundrum.

Here’s a look at how self-driving cars would transform one of America’s largest metropolises, and what it could mean for urban spaces across the nation and world.


For self-driving cars to become commonplace, the cars first and foremost need to be safe. Early in 2016 Elon Musk claimed that Tesla’s Autopilot feature was “’probably better than a person right now.’” However, Sebastian Thrun, the founder of Google’s autonomous driving initiative, noted Autopilot’s limitations during test drives.

According to this New York Times article, “The Tesla performed well in freeway driving, and the company recently fixed a bug that had caused the car to unexpectedly veer off onto freeway exits. However, on city streets and country roads, Autopilot’s performance could be described as hair-raising.”

In fact, the first recorded fatality occurred in May of this year, when a Tesla car on self-driving mode failed to break as a tractor trailer ahead made a left turn. In a city, this type of incident could be even more likely — especially in New York City, where vehicle and foot traffic are perpetual problems. Still, human error being the main cause of accidents, driverless cars are likely to prevent many deaths and accidents.

In a tight city, that won’t be easy. The Midtown grid may be easy for Autopilot to navigate, but what about the twisting streets of the Financial District and the Village? Northeast weather conditions can introduce additional challenges.

Another big issue is the switch to manual control, as prompted by the Autopilot, which presumes close human supervision. According to John Leonard, an MIT mechanical engineering professor, “’The whole issue of interacting with people inside and outside the car exposes real issues in artificial intelligence.’”

Human error while operating large machinery is a known–if beleaguered–quantity. Although potentially safer, self-driving cars will probably be held to higher safety standards prior to widespread use, prompting a chilling question: will these self-driving cars and corresponding apps be susceptible to sabotage and hacking?

Despite precedent in features like cruise control, which automates some aspects of driving, people will undoubtedly want certain guarantees before giving up manual control.


With continued funding, testing, and refinement, safety issues can certainly be improved upon, if not eliminated. However, that leaves the next hurdle of legislation.

Autonomous cars must be made legal state-by-state, which could be a challenge depending on the region and public perception. What will the inevitable transition period look like–the mix of driven and self-driving cars? How will issues of litigation be settled in the inevitable event of an accident?

If driverless cars are to become normalized, especially in big cities, all of the legal kinks will need to be worked out first.


Beyond all these practical implementation concerns, how will these self-driving cars affect the New York cityscape? According to an article by Curbed, autonomous cars would eventually lead to a “shared vehicle ownership model, ” similar to Citi Bike or Zipcar, which would in turn lead to more efficient driving and parking practices, such as the reduction of parking spaces and roadways, which would mean the reclamation of public space.

According to Dr. Kara Klockman, “shared bikes” will also get a boost from this kind of transit model. Alain Kornhauser posits that autonomous vehicles will actually make regional transit and by extension urban public transit more accessible.

Essentially, if all cars (or even most) in NYC were to go the driverless route, it would mean less traffic and smoother roads.


Still, one can’t help but ask if autonomous cars would be a preferred mode of transport over public transit. There’s the transfer to consider, as well as the costs of each mode of transportation (and the tally when combining them). Why not take an autonomous car all the way to work? Even with carpooling, we might see increased urban sprawl and an uptick in commute times.

As Dr. Kara Klockman notes, “’A big concern that I have for cities, states and regions is excessive travel. […] I think we’ll need a credit-based congestion pricing model.”

As the environmental costs of vehicular travel continue to be scrutinized, alternative modes of transportation are more likely to be prioritized, especially in cities like New York that have robust public transport systems already. But if driverless cars could operate sustainably, quickly and cheaply, they may play a chief role.

Human impact

The question of cost raises additional concerns. Gerry Tierney notes: “If we’re moving toward this autonomous, decentralized transit system, we need to make sure that it’s accessible to everybody, that there’s a social equity concept in the design.”

For people of lower income who cannot afford to live in the city center where they work, self-driving cars could be a real time-saver. But if these people are priced out of the service, we could end up with a very lopsided combination of public transportation systems and autonomous vehicle transit.

Another human cost to consider is the impact on labor. As this New York Post article puts it, “Chalk up another possible job victim of the Internet age — the New York City cab driver.” Mayor Bill de Blasio already signed an agreement with Google in April 2015 to add thousands of self-driving cars to New York’s taxi service.

The proposed 2016 White House budget included $4 billion for pertinent research funding. And Uber, along with its competitor Lyft, are planning to use autonomous cars, which–given the recent controversy surrounding Uber’s employer practices and the app’s controversial reception in many cities–could prove contentious.

Lastly, what of New York City’s finest, the NYPD? Traffic tickets add a consistent stream of revenue to police forces, and assuming self-driving cars limit (if not remove entirely) the possibilities of road violations, some estimates predict half of cops could be put out of work.

While this would be bad in the short-term for police officers, it could free up their time and resources to concentrate more fully on serious crimes.

At the end of the day, it’s tough to say what NYC would really look like if and when driverless cars are popularized in urban spaces. But we can say for certain they will play a part in the future, and that the impact on America’s infrastructure and the face of its most vibrant city will be drastic.

Featured image: DiAnn L’Roy via Flickr

By |2018-10-31T16:19:00+00:00July 11th, 2016|Culture, Technology|

How Does ‘Tactical Urbanism’ Add Value to a Community?

Addressing community change is starting to become much more revolutionary as neighborhood leaders are moving towards Tactical Urbanism. Tactical Urbanism is the implementation of intricate community fixes that address common problems for locals and many are in favor of this method’s host of positive, long term effects.

There are also a group of people describing this approach as “guerrilla urbanism” and an inconsiderate move that local governments use to appease residents and limit their own overhead costs.

Does Tactical Urbanism add meaningful parts to the whole and support a community’s greater good or does it instill changes that have little effect on the masses?


Community Benefits

As the term impacts communities directly, it results in different benefits for locals and local governments.

Mike Lydon and Anthony Garcia, two urban planners, co-authored the new book Tactical Urbanism: Short-term Action for Long-Term Change which takes an interesting stance on this issue. Lydon and Garcia define tactical urbanism as, “an approach to neighborhood building using short-term, low-cost, and scalable interventions and policies.”

These fixes often fall into the realm of city streets, sidewalk renovations, signage additions, neighborhood park upgrades and a few other areas of interest. In terms of location, tactical urbanism campaigns often target empty lots, idle storefronts, highway underpasses, and other public spaces.

One of the more consistent tactical urbanism programs are “parklets,” where street pavement spaces are transformed into community parks by adding a sidewalk extension expand into the given area.

But most tactical urbanism efforts place a focus on involving people in the process who will be most affected by these changes. The most important factor of tactical urbanism is not just the small changes that are implemented but ultimately the participation of residents because it helps the community resonant with the neighborhood’s growth. In return, this community approach brings about a handful of benefits that challenges the results of other kinds of reformation.

Tactical urbanism is a collaborative effort but the plans for physical change often come from local ideas. Modeling the changes around the communities needs and ideas allows for efficient projects because the plans come straight from the source.

This type of urbanism also does not require a long term commitment from those involved and it is a low-risk activity. With such a relatively little contribution required, in terms of time and funding, there proves to be a high reward for participating communities. The most satisfying return from this tactic is that it emits realistic expectations.

Socially, organizations and individuals get to work together for on short term projects and it opens up their pathways of communication for continued coordination for future neighborhood activities. Creating a connected community is not only important during the times of urbanism activity but also for a healthy foundation for the neighborhood.


Government Benefits

Tactical urbanism benefits are beginning to become noticeable for not only community residents but local governments, nonprofits, and developers as well. As the tactic becomes more prominent nationwide rather than just New York City specific, more local governments realize how instrumental change can derive from the ground up.

This method of urbanism appeases locals and city organizations which are usually the government’s responsibility. Residents get an immediate redesign and restructuring of public space directed towards the community’s demands. Residential developers also get insight into what the community wants and they can better model new properties they plan to bring to that specific market.

As far as government benefit, there is much less of a burden expense wise. The changes taking effect usually require a small supply of items like paint, manual tools, gardening supplies, and other materials. There is also less of need for paid labor assistance as residents are generally encouraged to work together for the length of the project.

The government can focus larger-scale activities when communities spearhead local campaigns for change. Like developers and city planners, the government can learn about neighborhood needs as well from the community’s re-formatting of public space.

Tactical Urbanism seems to produce a happy community as it transforms residential input for the use of public spaces and coordinates a system of small fixes that amount in a display of benefits for locals and local government.


By |2018-10-31T15:42:12+00:00September 9th, 2015|Urban Planning|