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What’s New in Civic Tech: Harvard Unveils Local Gov Center

Plus, Philadelphia’s Digital Literacy Alliance has announced its winter 2020 grant cycle recipients, NYC overhauls its online vaccine finder platform and NYC releases a new broadband-related RFP.

by / March 4, 2021
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg Shutterstock/mark reinstein

Officials have announced the creation of the Bloomberg Center for Cities at Harvard University, which aims — in the simplest terms — to strengthen local government performance the world over.

At this week’s Bloomberg CityLab event — perhaps the world’s preeminent annual gathering of local government experts and officials — former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that Bloomberg Philanthropies is making a $150 million investment in the project. A subsequent press release about the center noted that the goal is to essentially work with Harvard to build upon the trajectory of the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative, to “strengthen the capabilities of mayors and their teams, advance effective organizational practices in city halls around the world, support a new generation of public servants as they encounter unprecedented challenges in the years to come, and produce new research and instructional materials that will help city leaders.”

In announcing the donation, Bloomberg pointed out that the pandemic has highlighted the importance of strong local government leadership to make a difference in the lives of residents. 

In terms of specifics, this new project will mean expanding the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative by adding a program and resources for new mayors to help build their teams. New work will also involve creating more programming for city hall leadership, conducting additional research on city governance and offering a new postgraduate program called City Hall Fellowships.

The Bloomberg Center for Cities at Harvard University will be permanent, consisting of an endowment for 10 faculty positions for “scholars or experts focused on city problem solving.”

Philadelphia’s Digital Literacy Alliance Announces Winter 2020 Grant Recipients

Philadelphia’s Digital Literacy Alliance (DLA) has announced the recipients for its winter 2020 grant cycle, which has a focus on projects related to immigrant and limited-English proficiency (LEP) communities. 

The DLA made the announcement this week, noting that this season’s round of grants stems from a funding partnership between itself and the Independence Public Media Foundation. The goal this year, officials noted in a press release, is to look for “creative and innovative ideas for connecting digital literacy and equity with relevant needs of the immigrant and LEP populations in the city.” 

In total, the program found seven organizations with proposals that fit the criteria. The funding they will now receive is aimed at helping them realize their projects and ideas. The seven grants range from $20,000 to $50,000, and they are all for one- or two-year programs. The programs they will fund are interesting and varied. 

For example, Jefferson University and Esperanza Health Center — which received a $50,000 two-year grant — has a project focused on identifying and ultimately addressing barriers to digital readiness among the Latino population served by its partners within the EHC Department of Community Health and Wellness. The ultimate goal for that work is to address the population’s needs around the use of digital health resources. 

Another two-year grant went to Philly Community Wireless. That group intends to partner with nonprofit organizations, immigrant communities and other residents in the city’s Norris Square Park area. The idea is to incubate community-based network stewardship there. On top of connecting roughly 100 homes within a one-mile radius of the park to high-speed Internet at no cost, the group intends to host training events that will help the community maintain and grow the free network. 

There are five other projects as well. 

For the unfamiliar, the DLA is a coalition of stakeholders in Philadelphia who work to alleviate challenges around the city’s digital divide. 

New York City Overhauls Online Vaccine Finder Platform

New York City this week overhauled its online vaccine finder, adding a functionality that enables users to find sites that have available vaccines in real time.

Within that, the finder also notes whether those sites have first or second vaccines available. Users can then click through to book their own vaccine appointments, should they meet related eligibility requirements. 

Online vaccine finder portals run by local governments are taking hold nationwide, although not without challenges. Advocates have called for many of these sites to do a better job with accessibility, while some have also struggled with functionality challenges. 

Interested parties can find the NYC COVID-19 Vaccine Finder online now.

A New RFP Seeks to Address Broadband Infrastructure Inequities in NYC

Also in this week’s New York City tech news, the NYC Mayor’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer issued a new request for proposal (RFP) titled Universal Solicitation for Broadband: Citywide RFP.

This new RFP aims to accelerate the existing NYC Internet Master Plan, released in January 2020. That plan, which aims to bring Internet connectivity to 600,000 New Yorkers, has had its importance emphasized by a pandemic that has required many to seek work, employment and health care via Internet connections at home. This is a major challenge for a city where roughly 18 percent of the population — or 1.5 million people — lack both home and mobile Internet connections.

As the announcement posting notes, this new RFP “invites the telecommunications industry to create new affordable broadband service options through a first-ever coordinated system of access to more than 100,000 city assets.” With this in mind, the city is inviting respondents to submit proposals for infrastructure such as fiber optics, conduits, new wireless hub locales or wireless networks, all aimed at creating more jobs and delivering affordable high-speed Internet, both in-home as well as within public spaces. 

More information can be found on the Mayor’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer’s website.


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Zack Quaintance Associate Editor

Zack Quaintance is the associate editor for Government Technology. His background includes writing for daily newspapers across the country and developing content for a software company in Austin, Texas. He is now based in Washington, D.C. He can be reached via email.

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