What is a Digital City?

New York City has put an emphasis on making itself more digital. But what does that really mean?

The unveiling of NYC’s Digital Plan by Mayor Bloomberg and Chief Digital Officer Rachel Sterne has given risen to a broader question being asked by city officials and local citizens across the globe – what makes a city digital?

Below is our vision of the top ten features that are instrumental in the making of a “digital city”:

  • Great digital infrastructure by way of broadband and wi-fi access. This feature in particular signals a shift from “moving people to work” thinking to “moving work to people.”
  • Well integrated set of online tools that provide information to the public via multiple digital channels such as a regularly updated website, social platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, and a live stream of key meetings enabling greater public participating etc. It should be noted that a social presence is less about using the newest cool, shiny tools and more about connecting with city residents on whatever platforms they use the most. A great example is the use of NYCDigital’s Tumblr account to share Beyonce’s surprise appearance at a Harlem school workout.
  • Using digital technology to provide better services, such as transit networks to residents. For example Paris, Barcelona, Montreal, Denver and now New York City have introduced popular bike sharing systems but it still remains to be seen how they will harness digital to take these systems to the next level. A critical ingredient will be making these services self-paying instead of being funded by tax dollars.
  • Open 311 capability to allow for collaborative location-based issue-tracking.
  • Making real-time transit data accessible to city residents and visitors through apps and other mobile systems.
  • Critical to using social media is ensuring a well-thought out social media policy for employees that will encourage their engagement with local residents within acceptable norms of communication. While this may not preclude gaffes like the one made by a Secret Service employee on Twitter, it should help minimize them.
A Secret Service employee mistakenly blasts a personal tweet on the official Secret Service Twitter account
  • Transparently shared metrics on these programs.
  • Signal an openness to innovation by soliciting ideas digitally through partnerships with Non Profits to rethink local planning, design and education. The Project for Public Spaces is just such an organization.
  • Special recruitment programs to help city agencies and local businesses recruit the right talent. A good example is the recent NYC Recruiting event held at leading schools in Boston to solicit tech talent for startups in New York City.
  • A strong and informed political leadership.

For more on the NYC Chief Digital Officer, Rachel Sterne’s plans to transform NYC into “the” digital city of the country, see her presentation at the PSFK NYC Conference here.

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