Since 2010, New York City has strived to become a global digital leader. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and commissioner Katherine Oliver announced NYC Digital last July, with the mission to create a better civil society and stronger democracy with the use of technology – engaging, serving and connecting New York.
Rachel Sterne is the city’s first chief digital officer. Her goal at NYC Digital is to use technology and digital media to improve communication with residents and business and enhance government transparency.
Alongside Bloomberg, Sterne created Road Map for the Digital City, which outlines plans to make New York the world’s leading digital city.
“The state of the digital city was strong in New York when we began developing the roadmap,” says Sterne, who credits Bloomberg’s administration with digital development supporting efficiency, transparency and public engagement.
“But we are New Yorkers, and we don’t rest on our laurels. That’s why the Mayor decided we need a holistic digital roadmap to help New York City realize its full potential and raise the bar even higher.”
The road map is split into four strategic categories: Access to Technology, Open Government, Engagement and Industry.
This year, Digital NYC provided Wi-Fi to more parks and public spaces across the five boroughs. It also strengthened support for more broadband choices. In September, for the first time ever, six different subway stations began to offer cellphone service.
According to the road map, the next steps will be providing education and outreach. Linking with NYC Connected initiatives, the city hopes to provide high-needs individuals with federally funded broadband.
Initiatives for the Open Government platform were fully completed in 2011. NYC Digital developed an OpenData API platform, which supplies hundreds of sets of public data produced by agencies and organizations. You can find visualizations and datasets on New York at the NYC Digital Tumblr.
In addition, nine official NYC apps were created for iOS, including NYC 311, NYC City Hall and NYC Media. This year, the Department of Transportation will release an Android version of its official app, which provides New Yorkers with safe transportation choices.
“The mobile web will be a very strong focus for 2012,” says Sterne, “as it is not specific to a platform and helps us to reach even more New Yorkers.”
“Reinvent NYC.gov,” the city’s first-ever hackathon, was attended by developers and designers from across the U.S. Since then, there has been an independent hackathon nearly every week, led by experts at the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications.
According to Sterne, this was one of the biggest milestones in the process of the roadmap.
“As powerful as the digital medium is, there is something special about getting together in the same place with a shared mission. In the case of the Reinvent NYC.GOV hackathon, that mission was to imagine the future of how city government can engage with the public through its website.”
Over the past year, more than 250 social media channels were created, resulting in more than 1.5 million followers. When Hurricane Irene hit the east coast in August, the city responded in real time with emergency alerts on Facebook, 311 tweets and live video streaming. During the hurricane, an unprecedented amount of traffic throttled the city’s servers, a range of third-party apps became vital for those in need of locating an evacuation zone.
“By opening up its data, the City enabled developers around the world to help us serve the public, and the results were that we served 10-20 times as many people than we would have otherwise.”
One of the biggest announcements this year was the partnership between Technicon and Cornell. Together, led by deputy mayor Robert Steel and Seth Pinksy of the New York Economic Development Corporation, a new engineering campus will be built on Roosevelt Island. Sterne says this will be “powering innovation for generations to come.”
Mayor Bloomberg also introduced new immigration services for startups in October at the New York Tech Meetup. The city is currently judging entries from software developers for the best new apps that utilize the city’s open data to help residents, visitors and businesses.
Lastly, NYC Digital forged partnerships that serve the public with Bitly, Buddy Media, Facebook, Foursquare, General Assembly, Google, Tumblr and Twitter.
What the Future Holds For NYC Digital
According to Sterne, the roadmap (as it currently stands) is on schedule to meet all of its goals by mid 2013. However, NYC Digital will continue to introduce new goals as existing ones are achieved, so the timeline will evolve.
The city is starting off 2012 with a comprehensive redesign of NYC.gov, working alongside the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications.
“We see an opportunity to completely re-think the way New Yorkers interact with their government online, and we are thrilled that we were able to kick off the process in an open, participatory way with the Reinvent NYC.GOV hackathon we hosted with General Assembly in August.”
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