Rebooting NYC: An Urban Tech Agenda for the Next Administration shows how City government can more effectively use technology to serve all New Yorkers equitably and efficiently 

Draft recommendations now open for public comment HERE

May 12, 2021 –– The Jacobs Urban Tech Hub at Cornell Tech today released proposals from its Rebooting NYC: An Urban Tech Agenda for the Next Administration, a set of strategic recommendations for how the Mayor, City Council, Comptroller, Public Advocate, and Borough Presidents can leverage new technologies to improve the lives of all New Yorkers. Authored by a team led by Rohit T. “Rit” Aggarwala, the Hub’s Senior Urban Tech Fellow, the proposals include ten specific tech concepts covering everything from protecting data privacy to improving city streets with specific recommendations on new technologies, revamped agency responsibilities and examples of case studies of where these policies have been successfully implemented in other cities. The recommendations were developed by the Urban Tech Hub team after extensive research, including consulting with more than 120 individuals from  New York City’s civic and tech communities, and  experts from across the country and around the world. The final recommendations will be released in late summer following a public comment and review period. Read the full report and comment on the draft recommendations here.

The draft document is the first original publication from the Jacobs Urban Tech Hub, a new center of activity at Cornell Tech led by founding director Michael M. Samuelian, that brings together applied research, startups, partnerships and convenings focused on the expanding role of technology in cities. Launched in 2020, the Hub brings together researchers, entrepreneurs, community organizations, industry leaders and government officials to develop new approaches to addressing urban challenges facing cities today.

“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. By bringing together experts in urban planning, civic engagement, government and technology, we can leverage the power of technology to make cities stronger, fairer and more resilient. The innovative proposals in Rebooting NYC build on the success of existing government initiatives and identifies bold new ideas for New Yorkers to consider as we head into a new generation  of leadership at City Hall,” said Michael Samuelian, Founding Director of the Urban Tech Hub.

“This year’s election will set the course for urban technology in New York for a decade.  We are very excited to release our initial draft of Rebooting NYC and start a dialogue with New Yorkers about how technology can improve our lives. In developing these proposals with a series of experts, we focused on actions that were innovative and would drive change for New Yorkers, but we’re also realistic and able to be implemented. We look forward to talking to New Yorkers to finalize a slate of impactful priorities for the next generation of Urban Tech in New York,” said Rit Aggarwala, Senior Urban Tech Fellow at the Urban Tech Hub.

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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

The Jacobs Urban Tech Hub includes a first-of-its-kind dual master’s degree focused on making cities more resilient, connected, and equitable. Jacobs welcomed its first graduate students this past fall. The concentration provides students the opportunity to pursue emerging sectors in urban innovation including mobility and transportation, real estate/property tech and construction, logistics and delivery, energy and other utilities, intelligent buildings and infrastructure, civic and urban community technology, and other areas of technology transformation in urban settings. 

“We are proud to release these draft recommendations today to further engage New Yorkers on how digital technologies can improve their lives. The Jacobs Institute was founded to bring together the unique combination of public policy, industry engagement, and deep tech skills. From health to urbanism to media, our programs are having an impact on some of the biggest and most important industries in New York,” said Ron Brachman, Director of the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute. 

About Cornell Tech

Cornell Tech is Cornell University’s groundbreaking campus for technology research and education on Roosevelt Island in New York City. Our faculty, students and industry partners work together in an ultra-collaborative environment, pushing inquiry further and developing meaningful technologies for a digital society. Founded in partnership with the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and the City of New York, Cornell Tech achieves global reach and local impact, extending Cornell University’s long history of leading innovation in computer science and engineering.

About Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute

The Jacobs Institute fosters radical experimentation at the intersection of research, education, and entrepreneurship. Established jointly by Cornell University and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, our mission is to transform key industries through technological innovation, deep-tech startups, and uniquely skilled talent.

The Jacobs Institute degree programs equip students to take on complex, real-world challenges through interdisciplinary, domain-focused work. Recent PhD graduates work through the Jacobs Runway Startup Postdoctoral Program to apply their knowledge as they lead teams and build companies in industries critical to the 21st century.

About the Urban Tech Hub

The Urban Tech Hub of the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute at Cornell Tech is a center of activity that generates applied research, fosters an expanding tech ecosystem, and cultivates the next generation of leaders in urban technology. Our goal is to shape the field of urban tech with a human-centered approach that focuses first on the people that use the technology. We advance technology research and education to build a better world by increasing access and opportunity within the tech sector.

The Jacobs Urban Tech Hub leverages the resources of Cornell University (and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology) to bring together researchers, engineers, scientists, urban tech companies, government agencies, and community organizations to address the challenges facing cities today.