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NYC Establishes 18F-esque Group Within Department of City Planning

The NYC Planning Labs is aimed at taking small projects from concept to use within a four- to six-week window.

The New York City Department of City Planning is now hosting a new tech services unit called the NYC Planning Labs, which is aimed at taking small projects from concept to use within a four- to six-week window for any of the municipality's internal divisions.

The formation of this group was announced Monday, June 12 in a post to the Planning Labs’ blog, and if the organization sounds familiar, that’s because it seems largely built in the mold of 18F, a digital consultancy formed during the Obama administration at the federal level. It’s fitting that at the time of launch, the only other post on the Planning Labs’ blog was an instructive piece about how it leveraged 18F’s open source website to create its own online home in a couple of days.

“In fact, much of Labs’ mission and philosophy is inspired by 18F’s, so it makes sense that their site would have a lot of the features we want to have on ours, specifically beautiful and informative project pages, a project index with cards, a blog, responsive standards-based design, and great content that helps to explain their principles,” read the blog post.

As examples of the work Planning Labs will be doing, the group points to Web map explorers — similar to the NYC Facilities Explorer — as well as other data visualizations and animations, plus simple purpose-built data tools to replace or complement existing workflows.

The group’s charter is online at GitHub, and it lists its mission as two-fold:

  1. To design and build modern, lightweight, sustainable and impactful technology products that support the mission of the Department of City Planning.
  2. To implement and promote the use of agile methods, human-centered design and open technology to support the above, maximizing the benefits of community-driven product development.
This is not the first time that 18F has inspired the civic tech world. Last year, Ohio turned to an inclusive procurement process to expand the ranks of tech bidders. The federal group has also contributed to tech work done at the state government level, including initiatives in California and other states.

The influence of 18F has also been felt internationally, as earlier this year former 18F Deputy Executive Director Hillary Hartley left her post nearly a month before its end to become Ontario's first chief digital officer