What's New in Civic Tech: New App Takes Aim at Gun Violence

Plus, NYC’s deputy chief technology officer goes to work for the state; Grand Rapids, Mich., nets an accolade for data-driven governance; the White House OMB releases a federal data strategy action plan; and more.

by / June 13, 2019

A new mobile app seeks to reduce gun violence by promoting community engagement.

Slated to launch this weekend in Syracuse, N.Y., the app is called Hello Syracuse, and it’s a relatively simple concept. It basically encourages users to get out and explore the upstate New York city of Syracuse. It does this by creating a list of challenges that can be satisfied by participating in local events, engaging in activities and ultimately learning more about Syracuse.

What it does is essentially gamify the experience of living in Syracuse in a way that gets people out of their houses and out socializing, learning, or otherwise just feeling more invested in the place. With the app, users take photos and track their progress to earn points. There’s even a leaderboard to make things slightly competitive.

“It’s as easy as taking a selfie,” the developers note in the app description. The app also features push notifications that let users know about more challenges, local events, and any public safety alerts in the area. It’s the last item — public safety alerts — that can most directly reduce incidents of injury due to gun violence by letting users know about shots fired warnings. One might argue, however, that a more engaged community is also inherently a safer one. The app also features a list of resources that range from volunteer opportunities to counseling for trauma.

Timothy Jennings-Bey, the creator of the app, and Adam Peruta, the app’s developer, recently spoke with local media about their creation. Jennings-Bey, who works with the Syracuse trauma response team, said he hoped the app would inspire others in the community to come up with more solutions to making the city safer and stronger.

NYC’s Deputy Chief Technology Officer Goes to Work for the State

Jeremy Goldberg, who was formerly New York City’s deputy chief technology officer, has now gone to work for New York state, doing so as its deputy secretary for technology and innovation, according to his LinkedIn.

As of April 2019, Goldberg works for the office of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. He spent the previous two years working out of the NYC Mayor’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer.

One of Goldberg’s chief accomplishments was his involvement with NYCx, a program that involved an annual competition for startup companies to offer tech-based solutions for a host of municipal challenges in the nation’s largest city — ranging from Internet connectivity and cybersecurity to more tangible challenges such as transportation.

As Goldberg notes on his LinkedIn, more than 400 companies and other organizations participated in the NYCx challenge programs, with one startup even raising more than $23 million in capital after winning.

Another prominent facet of Goldberg’s work with NYC was advising internal city agencies on policy as it relates to tech, helping to define the trends and other content that will appear in the soon-to-be-released OneNYC2019 Strategic Plan.

Before working with NYC, Goldberg worked in tech and innovation in San Jose and San Francisco. In the latter, he was present during the development of the city’s now-international and independent Startup in Residence Program.

Grand Rapids, Mich., Nets an Accolade for Data-Driven Governance

Grand Rapids, Mich., won an accolade for its use of data-driven governance as part of the Equipt to Innovate survey. The survey is a collaboration between Government Technology’s sister publication, Governing, and the non-profit urban equity group Living Cities. Within that report, Grand Rapids was identified as a top performer nationwide for data-driven governance.   

The report described Grand Rapids as “a leader when it comes to open data,” noting that pretty much the only city information not available through its open data portal must be kept private by law. In addition, the city has started to create data hubs within its open data platform aimed at helping external stakeholders that do not have the resources necessary to share data on their own open data sites.

And Equipt to Innovate is not the only report or organization recognizing the work being done in Grand Rapids. In fact, the city was also recently named a Bloomberg Mayors Challenge Champion City for the work it did on mathematical modeling used to gauge impact of economic development on various neighborhoods. That study helped the city learn more about the displacement of minority populations as well as how to predict changes moving forward.

Data-drive was one of seven categories in the report, with the others being resident-involved, broadly partnered, dynamically planned, employee engaged, race-informed, and smartly resourced.

San Diego was recognized as the years overall top performing city.

White House OMB Releases a Federal Data Strategy Action Plan

The White House Office of Management and Budget has released a federal data strategy.

This strategy, which is being billed as a one-year action plan, was created by a cross-government team and it ties into part of the federal government’s management agenda, specifically leveraging data as a strategic asset. Along with the strategy comes a call for feedback.

The federal government essentially wants to know what people think about the 16 action steps it has laid out with the shared goal of doing a better job of leveraging data. Those action steps range from things like developing a repository of federal data strategy resources and tools to piloting standard data catalogs for Data.gov.

The period for feedback will remain open through July 5, with the ultimate goal of having all 16 action steps created within the next year, presumably before the creation of a new action plan related to data strategy for next year.

NYC Launches Call for Innovation Around Air Quality and Urban Heat Islands

New York City has released a call for innovation related to improving air quality and addressing a concept known as urban heat islands.

A full competition manual is now available here, but essentially, the city is looking for “new and innovative ideas, technologies, and approaches to reducing the negative impacts of urban air pollution and the heat island effect,” organizers wrote on the call’s website. Solutions are encouraged from both mitigation and adaptation perspectives. Urban heat islands, for the unfamiliar, are areas within cities that are significantly warmer than neraby rural areas because of human actions, including the use of motor vehicles, asphalt and other structures.

In the call for innovation, the city notes that urban areas have the highest rates of heat-related illness and mortality. Also, the known air quality vulnerability is higher there. The city has stated an ultimate goal of finding and piloting solutions to improve air quality and reduce urban heat vulnerability. Essentially, it would like to make its air cleaner and its temperatures lower, and it wants technologists to help.

The challenge is split into two tracks, with one focusing on products and services, while the other takes a look at urban design. Participants will have the opportunity to present their creations to a panel consisting of NYC municipal agency officials, members of academic institutions and other leaders in the space.

The deadline for submissions is July 15, with an information webinar to be held on July 2.

Zack Quaintance Assistant News Editor

Zack Quaintance is the assistant news 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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