With a new road map, New York City aims to be the nation’s premier digital city

Today, New York City released its strategy to use technology to improve productivity, save money, attract startups and upgrade the services it provides to citizens. That’s a tall order, but then New Yorkers have rarely been know to think small or dream moderately.

“We want New York City to be the nation’s premier digital city – in how local government interacts with New Yorkers, in how New Yorkers have access to and capitalize on new technologies, and in how our tech and digital media sectors evolve, grow businesses and create jobs,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement. His office released an official statement digital roadmap at MikeBloomberg.com. “NYC’s #digitalroadmap has 4 goals: access, open government, citizen engagement & expanding NYC’s digital job growth,” tweeted Bloomberg after the announcement.

Nick Judd secured an advance copy of NYC’s road map to the digital city over at techPresident, which I’ve embedded below, and has this analysis of some of the important bytes.

There are no explicit plans in the report for increasing the number of available datasets — such as more detailed city budget data — but do include an “apps wishlist” to streamline the process of requesting more data.

Implementing the recommendations in the report will in large part be the responsibility of city Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications Commissioner Carole Post, who is already in the process of pushing internally for updated city IT.

Archived video of today’s announcement by Mayor Bloomberg and NYC chief digital officer Rachel Sterne (which was, appropriately, livestreamed online) is embedded below.

Watch live streaming video from nycgov at livestream.com

While some media outlets will focus on NYC embracing Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare as digital partners, a notable aspect of today’s news that may fly under the radar may be that NYC.gov will be adding APIs for Open311, its open data mine and other Web efforts. Those are the open government pillars that will support New York City’s effort to architect a city as a platform. For more on how New York City is citizensourcing smarter government, head on over to Radar.

Social media will play a role in the months ahead. When Adam Sharp, Twitter’s government guy, tweeted out the Wall Street Journal above, he highlighted a feature that melds social media with old school mobile technology: the use of “Fast Follow,” a function that goes back to Twitter’s earliest days.

“New Yorkers who want to follow @nycgov by SMS can text “follow nycgov” to 40404. No @Twitter acct or computer needed,” tweeted Sharp.

That means that every resident with a phone call can receive updates from the city’s official account. It will be interesting to see if city government advertises that to its residents over the coming months, particularly in areas where Internet penetration rates are lower.

Anil Dash, native New Yorker, blogger and entrepreneur, highlighted something important in the plan that transcended any particular initiative, technology or policy: it captures New York City government thinking about the Web as a public space.

It’s an extraordinary document, and as someone who loves the web, civic engagement, public infrastructure and New York City, it feels like a momentous accomplishment, even though it marks the beginning of a years-long process, not just the end of a months-long one.

But the single biggest lesson I got from the 65-page, 11.8mb PDF is a simple one: The greatest city in the world can take shared public spaces online as seriously as it takes its public spaces in the physical world.

As you’d expect, there’s a press release about the Digital Road Map, but more reassuringly, the document demonstrates the idea of the web as public space throughout, making the idea explicit on page 43:

Maintaining digital ‘public spaces’ such as nyc.gov or 311 Online is equally important as maintaining physical public spaces like Prospect Park or the New York Public Library. Both digital and physical should be welcoming, accessible, cared for, and easy to navigate. Both must provide value to New Yorkers. And for both, regular stewardship and improvements are a necessity.

New York City’s road map for a digital city plan is embedded below. You also can download the digital city roadmap as a PDF.

NYC ODC 90day Report 5-15C

UPDATE: There are some concerns about what happens next out there in the community. New York City resident and director of the CUNY Mapping Service at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY) Steven Romalewski also listened in on the announcement and blogged his concerns about ‘open data fatigue“:

I always worry when I see the city touting its technology efforts without also including local Community Boards, neighborhood groups, business advocates, urban planners, other elected officials, etc. who rely on access to public data so they can hold government accountable and do their jobs better. In my view, these groups need the data moreso than app developers. That is why open data efforts and policies are so important.

But the city seems more focused on apps than on community. I understand the economic development appeal of fostering startups. But the open data movement long predated apps.  I highlighted this in my post last year (see the “Misplaced Priorities” section).

Apps are great (I use them constantly, and I’ve even developed one myself). And kudos to the city and its agencies for responding to app developers and making data more open so the developers can do great things with the data (things even the city might not do).

I just hope the latest announcements by the city will result in more real and lasting efforts to make data easier to access than the latest check-in craze. The Mayor already expressed some hesitation to making data accessible when a reporter asked him about CrashStat. CrashStat is a great example of my point — it wasn’t created to be an “app” per se; it’s an effort by a local nonprofit group to use public data to educate the public and hold government agencies more accountable about traffic injuries and fatalities. But the Mayor said he didn’t even know what CrashStat was, while making excuses about not making data available if it’s not in electronic format, or needs to be vetted, or is “sensitive”.  Blah blah blah – we’ve heard all that before and it undermines my confidence in the city’s pronouncements that more data will really be made open.

Alexander B. Howard is a DC-based a technology writer and editor. Previously, he was the Washington Correspondent at O'Reilly Media, where he covered the voices, technologies and issues that matter in the intersection of government, technology and society. If you're feeling social, you can follow him on Twitter, like him on Facebook or circle him on Google Plus In addition to corresponding for the O’Reilly Radar, he has contributed to the Huffington Post, Govfresh, Mashable, ReadWriteWeb, National Journal, The Atlantic, CBS News and Forbes. He graduated from Colby College with a bachelor's degree in biology and sociology. Currently, he is a resident of the District of Columbia, where he lives with his greyhound, wife, power tools, plants and growing collection of cast iron pans, many of which are frequently used to pursue his passion for good cooking.

About Alex Howard

Alexander B. Howard is a DC-based a technology writer and editor. Previously, he was the Washington Correspondent at O'Reilly Media, where he covered the voices, technologies and issues that matter in the intersection of government, technology and society. If you're feeling social, you can follow him on Twitter, like him on Facebook or circle him on Google Plus In addition to corresponding for the O’Reilly Radar, he has contributed to the Huffington Post, Govfresh, Mashable, ReadWriteWeb, National Journal, The Atlantic, CBS News and Forbes. He graduated from Colby College with a bachelor's degree in biology and sociology. Currently, he is a resident of the District of Columbia, where he lives with his greyhound, wife, power tools, plants and growing collection of cast iron pans, many of which are frequently used to pursue his passion for good cooking.

7 thoughts on “With a new road map, New York City aims to be the nation’s premier digital city

  1. Alex, great post (as usual).  NYC’s Digital Roadmap would have been greatly enhanced had they identified specific challenges to address and program outcomes to achieve via these digital initiatives.  As an example, greater data access is fine but to what end?

  2. Thanks again for quoting my blog, glad my perspective was helpful.  Just an fyi – I updated my post (http://wp.me/pBfcP-8o ) to emphasize the importance of open data access for the media.  In my view, Foursquare checkins, Tumblr posts, and NYC hackathons are just distractions compared with what unprecedented access for the media (bloggers, etc included) to the city’s data can do for improving government accountability, services, and quality of life.

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