2012 S4R Blog Posts

The New Civic Engagement…Apps, Apps, and Away!

May 18, 2012

Code for America has recently launched Engagement Commons,  a comprehensive and dynamic catalog of technological tools available for civic engagement that come with stories of how citizens and cities are making good use of them.

With civic engagement becoming an increasingly critical component of successful governance in the 21st century, cities around the world are seeking to leverage technology as a tool for citizen participation, but civic leaders face real challenges finding, evaluating, and deploying the right tools in the absence of good information…Engagement Commons (and the Civic Commons Marketplace as a whole) is a wiki-based, community-edited resource. That’s why we’re asking you to help build the Commons, and share your stories of civic engagement.

Read this full Engagement Commons article on the Code for Americawebsite.

 Leave a Comment » Civic EngagementOpen GovernmentTechnology Access Permalink
 Posted by Spring for Reform (Citizens Union)


NYC is Seeing Green, and that’s a Good Thing!

May 14, 2012

Citizens Union has long been a proponent of digitizing NYC’s myriad directories, publications, and databases to make city government more accountable to, and accessible for, all New Yorkers.  CU is happy to report that as of last week, NYC has made its (in)famous Green Book, well…green.

The Green Book is the ultimate guide to NYC government information.  It is at once an encyclopedia, a telephone directory, and a piece of art (check out previous editions with Keith Haring or Roy Lichtenstein covers).  First published in 1918, the Green Book was last published in 2008.  While it was extremely detailed,  it was a static document, only updated annually (except in 1945 when it wasn’t published at all, and in the 1970s, when NYC published it every 2 years).   Now, it is an online searchable database to be updated quarterly.  While it is still a work in progress, it is a great start.

Read the NYT article here, or click on Birdie NYC below to go straight to the Green Book.

 Leave a Comment » NYCOpen DataOpen Government Permalink
 Posted by Spring for Reform (Citizens Union)


New York beats Boston….sort of.

May 11, 2012

Originally published in the NY Times, 05/09/2012

New York City’s budding technology industry is growing rapidly by attracting investors and engineering talent despite spotty access to a reliable broadband network, according to a study released on Wednesday.

The study, “New Tech City,” conducted by the Center for an Urban Future, concluded that the technology industry is growing faster in New York City than anywhere else in America and that the city now trails only Silicon Valley as a hub for the development of new technology companies. The study’s authors, Jonathan Bowles and David Giles, identified 486 technology companies that had been founded in the city since 2007 and determined that the financial crisis and the recession that followed did not slow the industry’s growth.

Mr. Bowles said the technology investors he interviewed agreed that in the last few years, New York had eclipsed the Boston area as the second-leading breeding ground for tech companies in the country. Silicon Valley, around San Jose, Calif., is still by far the dominant center of the industry, but New York was the only place where the number of deals to finance tech start-ups rose between 2007 and 2011, Mr. Bowles said.   Read the NYT article here.

 Leave a Comment » EntrepreneurshipNYC | Tagged: Permalink
 Posted by Spring for Reform (Citizens Union)


City Council Now Webcasting More Meetings

May 11, 2012

 New Yorkers will now be able to watch the City Council in action from the comfort of their home or work computers.  The City Council announcedearlier this month that it is webcasting its committee hearings.  This is building off of its work to webcast its full Stated Meetings, which began last year.  To watch City Council proceedings, see their calendar of meetings, which also contains archived video.

In addition to using webcasting technology, the City Council is also working with the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment to provide more timely – if not live – TV coverage.  This office has renewed their focus on city government transparency through video coverage and houses NYC Digital, a division focused on making city government more accessible through technology.      Read the rest of this entry »

 Leave a Comment » NY City CouncilOpen Government Permalink
 Posted by Spring for Reform (Citizens Union)


NY Tech and the Spirit of Collaboration (Ilya Marritz Interviews Honoree Dawn Barber)

May 3, 2012

One of the hottest tickets in town is a show that’s been running for almost eight years. There are no professional actors or musicians, but this program draws more guests than some Broadway shows. It’s the NY Tech Meetup.

If you haven’t been, I can personally recommend this spectacle: one after the other, teams of developers and entrepreneurs take the stage, and present what they’re working on in five minutes or less. It could be a wedding-planning iPhone app, or a better way to sort email. Then, they take questions from an amped-up crowd of techies.

”I had no idea that it would become what it is today,” said Dawn Barber, a co-founder of the meetup, who is also one of Citizens Union’s Spring for Reform honorees this year. Read the rest of this entry »

 Leave a Comment » Civic EngagementCommunity BuildingEntrepreneurship,S4R Honoree Permalink
 Posted by Spring for Reform (Citizens Union)


Meet Mark Gorton

May 1, 2012

Of all the [Spring for Reform] honorees this year,Mark Gorton probably has the most varied CV: defense industry software engineer, bond trader, and perhaps most famously, creator of the Limewire file-sharing program (Limewire majorly disrupted the music industry some years ago, but in the end a court ordered it shut down).

I visited Gorton recently at the offices of the financial firm he founded, Tower Research Capital. A profusion of Buddhas, water fountains, and a picked-over bagel bar told me Gorton does things his own way.

His passion right now is OpenPlans, a non-profit company he founded in 1999.

One of OpenPlans’ goals is to change the way government procures software, from a “closed-source” model to an “open-source” model. Read the rest of this entry »

 Leave a Comment » Open DataS4R Honoree Permalink
 Posted by Spring for Reform (Citizens Union)


Digital Democracy and Delaney Cards (Host Ilya Marritz interviews Honoree Torrance Robinson)

April 26, 2012

When I was in public high school, here in New York City, the first meeting of each class at the beginning of term was largely consumed with filling out Delaney Cards. These were cigarette-lighter sized pieces of stiff paper, which contained spaces for personal information like the student’s name, address, and birth date (wikipedia has a good entry). Many teachers had their own specs (“put your nickname where it says ‘subject’”) ensuring that getting 36 kids’ Delaneys always took longer than it seemed it ought to.

I am told Delaneys are on the wane today, as new technologies enter the classroom. CU board memberTorrance Robinson is one of the people who’s driven this trend, as founder of NYConnects, a nonprofit that brought the internet into city schools beginning in 1994, and eChalk, a for-profit which develops education-oriented software that fosters communication and learning.

“Something as simple as posting an assignment which teachers used to put on a blackboard or collecting homework assignments – those take minutes a day out of each class and you tally that up and it’s really interfering with the learning opportunity,” Robinson told me when we chatted recently. Read the rest of this entry »

 Leave a Comment » NYCS4R HonoreeTechnology Access Permalink
 Posted by Spring for Reform (Citizens Union)


Brooklyn: The New Tech Frontier, Part II – On the CUSP

April 23, 2012

(This is cross-posted from a press release from the office of NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, originally released 04/23/2012.)

Mayor Bloomberg, New York University President John Sexton, Polytechnic Institute of New York University President Jerry M. Hultin and MTA Chairman Joseph J. Lhota today announced an historic agreement among the City, MTA, and a consortium of world-class academic institutions and private technology companies that will lead to the creation of the NYU Center For Urban Science and Progress, to be located in Downtown Brooklyn.

The Center for Urban Science and Progress (CUSP) will be a partnership of top institutions from around the globe, led by NYU and NYU-Poly, and will focus on research and development of technology to address the critical challenges facing cities, including infrastructure, tech integration, energy efficiency, transportation congestion, public safety and public health.  Continue reading…

 Leave a Comment » BrooklynNYCTechnology Access Permalink
 Posted by Spring for Reform (Citizens Union)


Brooklyn: The New Tech Frontier

April 23, 2012

(This is cross-posted from Crains New York Business, originally published 4/22/2012.)

For a decade or longer, New York City has had one tech center: Silicon Alley, the downtown hotbed that has spawned generations of standouts, including Doubleclick, Gilt Groupe and Second Market—companies built around New York’s traditional strengths in advertising, retail and finance.

Now a hive of digital designers and disruptors is making Brooklyn—specifically Dumbo and, more recently, other areas nearby—New York’s new hotbed of tech. And the scene has a decidedly different vibe.

“Brooklyn’s been our competitive advantage,” said Shirley Au, president of HUGE Inc., a digital-marketing company that sprouted from the neighborhood in 1999. “Just by being here, we’re saying something about our company’s values, our ethos.”    Continue reading…

 Leave a Comment » EntrepreneurshipNYCTechnology Access Permalink
 Posted by Spring for Reform (Citizens Union)


You Can Help Write NYC’s Open Data Policies. Yes, YOU!

April 23, 2012

(This is cross-posted from the New York World, originally published on 4/19/2012.)

On Tuesday, the city’s technology unit took a double leap into the future of open government. The Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) released preliminary policies, technical standards and guidelines under the new Local Law 11, which requires city agencies to publish all public data in one online portal in a machine-readable format.

And it did so in the form of a wiki, an interactive document that enables any registered user to add to or amend the draft policies, so the public and city agencies can literally write in their own version of what they think the new rules should be. All revisions are saved under a page’s “history” tab so changes are recorded.

Think of it as Wikipedia for government. As far as anyone can recall, the wiki is the first of its kind for a city administration.  Continue reading…

 Leave a Comment » Civic EngagementLegislationNYCOpen DataPermalink
 Posted by Spring for Reform (Citizens Union)


Opening Up the Inner Workings of New York City

April 23, 2012

(This is cross-posted from the MetroFocus blog of WNET Ch. 13/WLIW Ch. 21, originally posted 4/16/2012. Featured in this piece is S4R 2012 honoree, Mark Gorton.)

What goes on behind closed doors is increasing available on your own desktop or mobile device when it comes to the inner workings of New York City government agencies.  In 2009, the city of New York created an open portal website through which agencies can release their data online for the public’s use. While still in its infancy, this open data movement is a a giant step for transparency advocates and democracy in general. One of the most fascinating impacts of the open data and open source (software code that’s available to the public to improve and reuse) movements has been the influx of new web tools, developed by private companies and nonprofits, that help people better engage with, and navigate, their city.  Continue reading…

 Leave a Comment » Civic EngagementLegislationNYCOpen DataS4R Honoree Permalink
 Posted by Spring for Reform (Citizens Union)


Big Ups for NYC Big Apps 3.0 Winners!

April 18, 2012

NYTime City Room Blog, April 18, 2012, 3:58 pm
By JOSHUA BRUSTEIN

There were almost 100 entries into New York City’s third annual Big Appscontest, grappling with urban issues like transportation, education and land use. In the end, the top prize went to a project whose main goal was to make it easy for developers to make more apps.

NYCFacets, the project that won best overall application, looks to help Web developers grapple with the deluge of public data being released by city agencies. It can be difficult to find out what is contained within these data sets. So Joel Natividad and Sami Baig created NYC Facets, which identifies over a million facts about the data and creates ways for developers to search through it.

The need to identify useful pieces of data is becoming increasingly important. The Bloomberg administration has focused on making large amounts of public data available in formats that can be used by computer programmers, and a recently passed open-data law could encourage even more data sets to hit the open Web.

Continue to the NYT…

 Leave a Comment » AppsNYCOpen Data Permalink
 Posted by Spring for Reform (Citizens Union)


The new civic engagement? The United States of Facebook, or democracy’s discontent

April 13, 2012

In 1995, Robert Putnam created a stir in academic circles for his essay (and later book) “Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital.”  If my memory of Sociology class serves me right, Putnam essentially claimed that the very vibrancy of America’s democracy was in decline, due in large part to the decline in social connectedness and civic engagement.  Despite the many well-reasoned arguments and examples he offered, one explanation stuck: our democracy was in jeopardy because – while more people were bowling, fewer people were bowling as members of bowling leagues – more people were bowling alone.

It has been said that technology is at the root of our civic dis-engagement. Putnam himself cited “the technological transformation of our leisure” as a signal of our cultural/sociopolitical downfall. With each innovation, we found fewer reasons to go out and congregate, and more reasons to stay home by ourselves. First it was the radio (no more town criers and dance halls); then it was the ice box (no more daily trips to the butcher, the grocer, the soda shoppe…); then it was the television (no more drive-ins, newspapers, or books). Now with computers (stationary and mobile alike) and the internet, it’s as if we’ve locked the doors and drawn the shades on any human interaction or community building at all.  Or have we? Read the rest of this entry »

 Leave a Comment » Civic Engagement Permalink
 Posted by Spring for Reform (Citizens Union)


How Voting is Like Clicking “Complete Purchase” (Host Ilya Marritz interviews Honoree Art Chang)

April 11, 2012

New York City has one of the most generous campaign finance matching programs in the nation. And since 2009, tech entrepreneur Art Chang has been a member of the group which oversees it, the Campaign Finance Board.

One of Chang’s particular concerns is voter engagement (he’s chair of the CFB’s Voter Assistance Advisory committee, which hosts debates and publishes a voter guide).

But for Chang, it’s not just about getting people into the voting booth, it’s also about getting them tweeting, facebook-posting, and using technology to have an informed debate. He points to change.org, the social action platform where anyone can start a petition drive, as an example of how technology can power democracy. Read the rest of this entry »

 Leave a Comment » Civic EngagementNYCS4R Honoree Permalink
 Posted by Spring for Reform (Citizens Union)


Good Government Groups Call for New Transparency For NY State Government

March 27, 2012

On March 22, 2012, leading civic groups called on the Governor, Legislature, Attorney General and Comptroller to use the explosion in affordable Information Technology to make NY State government more transparent, responsive and accountable.

The groups noted New York’s recent “D” grade on a national “corruption risk” survey and urged state leaders to move rapidly, noting, “Healthy, well-functioning democracies fully embrace transparency.”

Continue…

 Leave a Comment » LegislationOpen Data Permalink
 Posted by Spring for Reform (Citizens Union)


Lessons from Seattle, WA: Technology Grants Available for Civic Engagement and Broadband Adoption

March 27, 2012

The City of Seattle is enlisting community organizations in the effort to help close the digital divide in Seattle, especially for vulnerable residents. Technology Matching Fund grants up to $20,000 are available for projects that meet goals for increasing online civic engagement, technology access and adoption, internet and digital media skills, or community building.

“The Technology Matching Fund grant program is an inclusive program exemplifying the City’s commitment to Race and Social Justice by providing resources and technology access to all of our residents.  2012 will be the fifteen year of the program and it continues to be a critical partnership with the community by empowering residents with technology skills to find jobs and helping neighborhoods develop online public safety networks”.

Continue…

 Leave a Comment » Civic EngagementTechnology Access Permalink
 Posted by Spring for Reform (Citizens Union)


“Green Button” Open Data Just Created an App Market for 27M US Homes

March 27, 2012

Earlier this year, influential venture capitalist Fred Wilson encouraged entrepreneurs and VCs to get behind open data. Writing on his widely read blog, Wilson urged developers to adopt the Green Button, the project that former United States Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra launched in 2011 to unleash energy data.

Today, the Obama Administration announced that nine major utilities and electricity suppliers have committed to using and extending the Green Button to enable some 15 million households to access data about their energy usage. As with the Blue Button for healthcare data, the White House asserts that providing energy consumers with secure access to information about energy usage will increase innovation in the sector and empower citizens with more information.

Continue…

 Leave a Comment » AppsOpen Data Permalink
 Posted by Spring for Reform (Citizens Union)


Now That Open Data is Law in New York, Meet Carole Post, the Enforcer

March 27, 2012

On March 12, Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed legislation that requires city agencies to make all the data they produce public online, and structured such that it can easily be used for almost any purpose, with only certain privacy and confidentiality requirements delimiting its release.

From here on out, it is the job of Carole Post to manage that open-data system. She’s the city’s chief information officer, and also serves as the commissioner of her own department, the Department of Information Technology and Communications.

Continue…

 Leave a Comment » LegislationNYC Permalink
 Posted by Spring for Reform (Citizens Union)


Trends In Focus: Understanding Technology & Civic Change

March 16, 2012

From, “The Catalyst: Ideas and Insights from Living Cities” (the blog of the Living Cities philanthropic collaborative)

Over the past few years there has been a significant amount of energy and technical expertise focused on identifying and solving urban problems within the technology community. According to Jennifer Pahlka, Founder & Executive Director of Code for America, nearly 550 people applied for one of their 26 fellowships to help cities create web-based solutions to civic problems. With hundreds of civic-minded web developers interested in improving cities, there is a growing sense of the untapped potential to use technology to drive civic change. On Thursday, January 19, Living Cities hosted its firstTrends in Focus forum to better understand how technology can increase the capacity for civic engagement, collective problem-solving and improved service delivery in cities for the benefit of low-income people.

Read more…

 Leave a Comment » Civic EngagementTechnology AccessUncategorizedPermalink
 Posted by Spring for Reform (Citizens Union)


John Hockenberry Speaks at TED – The Takeaway

March 16, 2012

John Hockenberry Speaks at TED – The Takeaway.

Every year, the TED Conference in California brings together the most prominent thinkers, innovators and newsmakers to share their big ideas. This year Takeaway host John Hockenberry took the stage. But he also recorded some behind-the-scenes interviews with some of TED’s biggest names.

Jennifer Pahlka is the founder and executive director of Code for America.

 Leave a Comment » Civic EngagementOpen DataUncategorizedPermalink
 Posted by Spring for Reform (Citizens Union)


New York City Council Passes Landmark Open Data Legislation

March 10, 2012

As expected, the New York City Council on Wednesday [02/29/2012] voted unanimously to approve a landmark piece of legislation that would require its 50 plus agencies to publish their quantitative data sets through an online portal in a machine-readable format, enabling public and private sector access to better manipulate and interpret the city’s information. The bill as passed was crafted with the cooperation of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration and it’s expected that the mayor will sign the legislation into law. GO

 Leave a Comment » LegislationNYC Permalink
 Posted by Spring for Reform (Citizens Union)


With Plan for Prize, TED Promises Cash Awards to Boost Civic Life

March 10, 2012

This year’s TED Prize is going to the concept of “The City 2.0,” the vision of a city of the future, that includes a new online platform to crowdsource ideas for improving the 21st century city. To that end, TED plans to distribute the usual $100,000 prize money as ten grants of $10,000 to local projects, all of which will be announced at the TED Global conference in June. According to Fast Company’s Co.Exist, TED will announce the details of the grant awarding process in the coming months, GO

 Leave a Comment » Civic EngagementCommunity BuildingTechnology Access | Permalink
 Posted by Spring for Reform (Citizens Union)

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