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Cornell Tech stakes its position in post pandemic New York: Part of the solution

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Part of the solution? That’s how Cornell Tech sees itself as New York City rises out of the the coronavirus pandemic. And that’s demonstrated in Rebooting NYC, a draft document from the Jacobs Urban Tech Hub.

By David Stone

Roosevelt Island Daily News

Part of the Solution: Rebooting NYC

The draft, Rebooting NYC, “…brings together applied research, startups, partnerships and convenings focused on the expanding role of technology in cities.” It’s a first from the Jacobs Urban Tech Hub, which launched just last year.

“The Urban Tech Hub was created to advance a dialogue with New Yorkers about how we can responsibly and equitably use new technologies to improve the quality of life for those who live and work in cities,” said founder Michael Samuelian.

Rohit T. “Rit” Aggarwala, leader of the team writing the report added, “This year’s election will set the course for urban technology in New York for a decade.”

From the press release, earlier this week…

Rebooting NYC proposes a set of recommendations for the next Mayor of New York City and other elected officials to consider as they start work in 2022. The recommendations address challenges across five broad subject areas, ranging from foundational needs such as data privacy and the structure of technology management, to future-proofing technology policy by being more proactive in engaging with technology companies and organizations. The recommendations include:  

  1. Bring data accountability to New York City with a municipal privacy law and oversight 

Urban technology will be held back unless New Yorkers can be convinced that data will not be used illegitimately. Data collection in the public realm relies on the implicit consent of the people who are being observed. But today, little constrains how City agencies and private actors use data they collect, which is a critical point of friction against public trust. It is too easy for data to be used for surveillance, in many cases without warrants, and disproportionately in communities of color and low-income neighborhoods. Rebooting NYC proposes that the City Council enact an overarching municipal privacy law to ensure that data collected in the public realm be used only in ways consistent with the public’s understanding of how and why it was collected, and the establishment of a central oversight office for privacy and data accountability.

  1. Bridge the digital divide while improving city-wide grid resiliency with a new Broadband Development Corporation

With 29% of New York City households lacking broadband access, and a multi-decade strategy of relying on the private sector to solve the problem failing to fully materialize, the city must take action. The City’s recently released Internet Master Plan and its proposed open-access fiber network is a great place for the next administration to start, but the city needs a governance plan to make it happen, and it must think longer-term. Rebooting NYC proposes the creation of a Broadband Development Corporation to oversee the development of a city-wide open access fiber broadband network as part of a city-wide network of utility tunnels to ensure long-term grid resiliency.

  1. Optimize urban systems through the accelerated adoption of new technologies that make city streets and buildings safer and better

New demands on our streets from an increase in delivery vehicles have made them even more unsafe and chaotic due to a lack of enforcement, a lack of coordination, and a lack of space for new types of vehicles. Digital systems — such as cameras to record illegal driving behavior — can provide solutions so all vehicle operations rules are enforced consistently, pervasively, and impartially. Rebooting NYC advocates for the expansion of digital traffic enforcement to make our streets safer, curbside management systems to make parking more predictable and reduce double parking, and the re-designing and expansion of the bike lane network to welcome a wide range of urban-scale, slow-speed vehicles such as cargo bikes, scooters, and small autonomous transit and delivery vehicles.

Building in New York City is very expensive, not as safe as it should be, and more disruptive than necessary. Rebooting NYC proposes a set of ideas to make construction safer, less intrusive and less expensive, including: the use of drones for visual inspections of building facades to improve facade and worker safety while reducing the number of unnecessary sidewalk sheds; and to streamline the building permit and inspection processes by using technology to check plans for building code compliance.

  1. Reduce barriers to public benefits by making it easier to sign up for, and navigate, the city’s public benefits system

Millions of New Yorkers need social services from the City, ranging from direct financial assistance for senior citizens to public education for children. These interactions between the public and the city agencies should be seamless, however, each agency has their own way of keeping track of an individual’s information leading to a complicated and lengthy process that serves as a barrier to access. Rebooting NYC proposes a “data locker” system through which New Yorkers can gather their information and share it in a standardized way with multiple agencies, and establish a universal approach to applying for services across all City programs.

  1. Improve representation in local government by making public meetings more accessible and participatory

New York’s 59 Community Boards are a critical component of the City’s government, providing the link between a large, consolidated municipal government and the neighborhoods in which we live and work. The COVID-19 pandemic forced Community Board meetings online and in doing so, removed a significant barrier to attendance and participation. Rebooting NYC advocates for continuing the option of virtual attendance and the introduction of new technologies such as auto-translation, and key-word alerts to make meetings more accessible and representative.

Read the full report here.

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