On the Roadmap to Digital Access, How Far Along is New York?


Looking for a co-working spot that’s near your favorite burger joint and also conveniently located near potential investors for your next great startup? The city has a site for that.


rachael_haot_queensBeen meaning to tell the city about that giant pothole you keep hitting on your commute to said startup? There’s an app for that, too.

At the recent Digital Roadmap Meetup held in Queens, New Yorkers learned about the progress the city was making by using technology to better assist its residents. Since 2011, NYC Digital has hosted these sessions that not only inform the public but also seek to get feedback on what still needs improving in terms of access, education, open government, engagement and industry.

“We’re putting more information in the hands of the public and creating opportunities for the public and government to work together to potentially create new solutions that we haven’t thought of before,” said Rachel Haot, the Chief Digital Officer for NYC.gov

With elections coming up, Roadmap reports, which can be accessed on the NYC.gov site, are a useful tool to help show mayoral candidates what NYC residents are most concerned with, what has been accomplished and what’s still in the works. For example, Haot noted that access to free wi-fi was a concern and the city has taken steps to change that with the introduction of unlimited free wi-fi in 26 parks and NYCHA Digital Vans. In spite of the increased transparency and initiatives, there were obvious ever-growing concerns that the breakout groups addressed that evening. Here are some of the concerns:

1)    Access-As it usually has the fewest participants, it was referred to as the “poor step-child” by group participant David Bronston, a lawyer focused on telecommunications infrastructure. While it may be the least glamorous to discuss, it’s the reason behind the free wi-fi and the plan to use existing pay phone infrastructure as wi-fi hotspots. According to the progress report, launching outreach efforts to increase broadband Internet adoption is still “in progress,” but past the “early stage.” Other points discussed were the importance of nurturing entrepreneurial infrastructure and competition, and to expedite the franchise process to allow companies to provide internet access.

2)    Education- As Haot discussed in her presentation, 20 city schools are adopting CS curriculums, while NYU and Cornell are opening up new tech programs. While the importance of STEM is evident, what the group addressed was the need to get students engaged in STEM and getting them to understand the concepts behind coding languages, rather than having them simply learn to code. The group also thought that finding new and better ways to use technology in the classroom (YouTube’s usually off-limits) was something that needed updating as well.

3)    Open government – The current progress report lists six initiatives all in the “achieved” stage, which includes items such as developing NYC OpenData (they have a Tumblr), hosting NYC’s first Hack-a-Thon and launching app wishlists. To further improve open government, some of the other suggestions the group brought up were having that data accessible in more languages, having publicly licensed apps, an app for knowing which agency controls what and logging all freedom of information requests.

4)  Engagement- With 340 social media channels, NYC seems to be keen on engaging the public. What’s still in progress is the expansion of their 311 Online system, their digital Citizen Toolkits and relaunching NYC.gov to make it more accessible. Further points that the group stressed included increasing awareness for job employment and education facilities, and emergency mobile power available for areas that lose it.

5)    Industry – If access and infrastructure is the group that allows New Yorkers to be digitally connected, the industry side is the goal of that connection. The most high-profile achievement of the city is the creation of the .NYC domain name set to launch in a few months. The group discussed the importance of low-cost education programs to get people and small businesses up-to-date on tech skills.

The Digital Roadmap sessions were held in the Bronx, Queens, Staten Island and Brooklyn, with the idea that attention be brought to the outer boroughs. Anyone from any borough can attend any other roadmap, which is what Alan Rothenstreich, who works in telecommunications services has done. From the different sessions he’s noted that a borough such as Brooklyn might be more tech aware, while Staten Island voices concerns about not feeling involved. But, as Rothenstreich sees it, “the city is working hard.” It just might take a few more Roadmap Meetups and maybe even helpful apps to get there.

To have your ideas heard, check out the next @nycGov Meetup.

For full coverage of tech events in New York, visit The Watch.


About the author: Stephanie Santana

After receiving a dual degree in magazine journalism and anthropology, Stephanie moved to Korea to teach English to elementary students for two years. During her time there, she started a website for salsa dancing in Korea, BusanSalsafied.com. She is currently an editorial assistant at AlleyWatch and is happy to back in New York at an exciting time for startups.  She likes to document her experiences here: stephaniesantana.tumblr.com.

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