New York City's Tech Engagement Program Designed to Think, Act, Locally and Globally

NYCx, a reorganizing of New York City's technology programs, is designed to bring technologists and residents together to solve tech problems with answers that could be adaptable worldwide.

by / October 23, 2017
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New York City is reorganizing its technology programs under NYCx, a new municipal tech engagement program designed to convene the people most qualified to come up with answers to the city’s largest and smallest problems.

That’s its overall goal, the city’s Chief Technology Officer Miguel Gamiño and Deputy CTO Jeremy Goldberg explained: Gather officials, activists, developers and tech-sector advisers; empower them under the city’s aegis; then task them with solving big issues that can transform citywide issues and neighborhood-sized concerns.

The program’s first project, announced on Thursday, Oct. 19, is the Governors Island Connectivity Challenge. It's part of a larger Moonshot Challenge series and calls on developers large and small to design a low-cost, quickly-installable, gigabit speed broadband network that could be scaled citywide, then test it on the island — a former military base located a half-mile from Lower Manhattan.

“For those foundational, strategic, inclusivity, equity reasons, broadband is the right thing to really push on first. It’s going to be really important to making sure that what happens subsequently is something that is consumable by or beneficial to everybody,” the CTO said.

Michael Samuelian, president of the Trust for Governors Island, said siting the first challenge there is ideal because the nonprofit owns the island and can make all aspects — from buildings to streetlight to landscaping — available for testing scenarios.

“This can become a demonstration project not just for New York but for other American cities and cities around the world in terms of being innovative in deploying high-speed broadband,” said Samuelian, who said he believes the challenge “comes down to access and equity, that everyone should have the opportunity to have access to technology.” 

Testing on the island will commence on Feb. 5, and a winning proposal will be installed across the island beginning in March.

The Neighborhood Innovation Lab, announced in March in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, will also fall under NYCx, officials said.

SCALABLE SOLUTIONS TO LOCAL ISSUES

NYCx’s two Co-Labs Challenges are focused on addressing issues in Brooklyn’s Brownsville neighborhood, but officials said solutions could ultimately be scalable citywide, and even replicable elsewhere in the U.S. or around the world.

The first, “Safe and Thriving Night Corridors,” seeks ways to encourage residents to use and safely enjoy Brownsville's public spaces at night.

Selected proposals will receive up to $20,000 in funding to test their ideas in the Belmont Avenue Business Corridor.

The second, “Zero Waste in Shared Space” aims to get to zero waste and litter and improve resident recycling in Brownsville public housing.

Chosen solutions will get up to $20,000 to pilot solutions in Brownsville Houses, one of the large public housing developments in Brownsville.

Proposals for both challenges are due by Dec. 15.

And on Monday, Oct. 23, Mayor Bill de Blasio, Gamiño and other officials gathered to announce the first two Co-Labs Challenges designed to gather developers and residents to create solutions for safety and waste issues in Brownsville.

Officials also revealed the NYCx Co-Labs program will expand to the city's five boroughs in 2018.

Future NYCx developments may include a component similar to the Startup in Residence (STiR) programs present in cities like Oakland, Sacramento and San Francisco — but, Gamiño said, on a “macro” level.

“NYCx is about changing the dynamic of that relationship between city government and the technologists and at the same time, introducing the community voice into that equation in a way that maybe only we can. This is really about building a program that makes sure that the technology that gets built and changes our future, does so in a way that is cognizant of the need to be inclusive in accomplishing that,” Gamiño said.

It’s also about continuing to grow the burgeoning tech industry — which, officials said in a news release is “contributing more quickly to New York City employment opportunities than other industries”; and supports more than 350,000 jobs and $30 billion in wages according to a recent New York State Tech Jobs report.

NYCx’s arrival, the city said, also builds on the June announcement of New York Works, a plan to create 100,000 “new, good-paying jobs,” 30,000 of which are projected to be in tech.

The CTO cited interest from four startups in relocating their headquarters to New York as evidence that discussions around initiatives like NYCx are already giving tech a boost.

Goldberg highlighted venture interest in investing in local government, civic and urban tech as proof of an independent, maturing industry.

“That is also, I think, another indication that in this incredible talent pool there is access capital within New York and you don’t necessarily have to fly to Silicon Valley to fundraise,” Goldberg said.

He characterized NYCx — now one of four endeavors with broadband, smart cities/Internet of Things and digital strategy spearheaded by the CTO’s office — and the inclusion of the Neighborhood Innovation Lab as a bringing together of “all those voices and people.”

“Having architected three efforts in municipalities before this, STiR included, the time is right and the time is now for a comprehensive program. This is what New York does, it’s go bold or go home,” said Goldberg who, like Gamiño, came to New York from San Francisco where he’d worked on its STiR program.

Theo Douglas Staff Writer

Theo Douglas is a staff writer for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes covering municipal, county and state governments, business and breaking news. He has a Bachelor's degree in Newspaper Journalism and a Master's in History, both from California State University, Long Beach.