Much has been written and said lately about the fear and trepidation prevailing over the New York City technology and entrepreneurial community as one of their own, Mayor Mike Bloomberg, leaves office, and Bill de Blasio, the city’s Public Advocate, takes his place.
Some of this concern is reasonable considering that for the last 12 years most people in the startup and emerging technology industries could not have asked for a more supportive Mayor.
Among the Mayor Bloomberg’s signature achievements were: the formation of Cornell’s Technion’s campus to stimulate the creation of high-quality home-grown tech talent; the appointment of New York City’s first Chief Digital Officer, Rachel Haot who, among many accomplishments, championed two iterations of a NYC Digital Road Map, lead the re-launch of the NYC.gov, oriented the city towards the future of disaster relief by helping to create Code Corps to bring the benefits of technology to bear after Hurricane Sandy; and helped position NYC government as a leader in the open civic data movement by supporting the passage of City Council woman Gail Brewer’s NYC’s open data legislation and the city’s now annual Big Apps competition.
Other initiatives by the City’s Economic Development Corporation to support and stimulate investments in technology startups, create WiFi corridors in multiple neighborhoods, and provide grants to strategic startups like General Assembly, add greatly to the Mayor’s legacy as a champion for all things related to New York’s tech.
Yet, even with all these great initiatives, there is still much more to be done to ensure that New York City builds the digital foundations for its future and transforms itself to successfully compete in the new hyper-connected global economy.
It’s true that Mayor-elect de Blasio is relatively unknown to members of tech community, many of whom are not deeply versed in the city’s politics or generally maintain an apolitical perspective. However, de Blasio’s rejection of some of Mayor Bloomberg’s policies during a partisan election campaign should not be confused with his agreement with the current Mayor that the technology industry is key to NYC’s future success and that it should continue to be supported and recognised as key strategic partner in the city’s future.
In fact, the tech community should be reassured and excited by the prospect of a future Mayor de Blasio because he has already clearly articulated a public policy perspective that tackles many of NYC tech community’s most important issues. Just three of his explicitly stated goals could do more for the future of New York’s tech sector than anything done previously. They are:
1) Make New York City the most wired city in the world with low-cost high-speed wired broadband delivered to every residence and business.
2)Increase the pool of engineering talent available in NYC by extending the vision of Cornell Technion to the entire system of the City University of New York (CUNY) while simultaneously accelerating the teaching of science and maths in public schools. Both of these efforts will help address the city’s current tech talent gap and make it less reliant on importing skilled professionals as it does now.
3)Retool New York City government to become a 21st century enterprise with more standardized and open data, revise the procurement processes to allow startups to bid on city contracts, and use new tools and platforms to deliver services more efficiently while engaging the public in making the city work better.
However, if the technologists and entrepreneurs of New York who loved the Bloomberg era really want to make sure that the momentum and economic growth that comes with digital innovation continues in New York after he leaves office, they could do themselves and their city a huge favour by not simply asking what a Mayor de Blasio might do for them and their industry, but rather asking what can they do to help the new Mayor succeed and achieve his technology policy goals.
For example, de Blasio is now looking to fill multiple positions in his administration and he would do well having staff working with him that understand the power of technology and how to apply it to help solve problems as well as move the economy forward. Entrepreneurs and technologists looking for new interesting challenges should apply to join the administration and make sure the “DNA” of innovation is embedded early and often as the new government takes shape.
Secondly, the New York Tech community should follow the lead of Union Square Venture’s Fred Wilson and hackNY’s Evan Korth who together with MOUSE.org’s first Executive Director, Sarah Holloway have founded the New York Foundation for Computer Science Education to help fund programs to teach science and maths in public schools. If the tech community really wants to see the pool of available engineering talent increase, then thousands of us are needed to volunteer our time and expertise, partnering with schools and empowering principals, teachers, and students to use technology the way we do everyday.
Lastly, the technology community should organise itself to help the city’s emergency response systems and organisations be better prepared for disasters. That can be done either by helping build resilient communications infrastructure to survive floods, earthquakes, and terrorist attacks, or volunteering after a disaster strikes to aid people, businesses, schools, and even government get back on their feet by helping in the recovery of their databases, websites, and other digital infrastructure so critical to their ability to function.
As we say good-bye to Mayor Bloomberg and applaud him for a job well done, let’s roll up our sleeves and offer the new Mayor our help. If we want to make technology that changes the world, then let’s prove it by using our time, skills, and technologies to help Mayor-elect de Blasio achieve his goals of making New York a more inclusive and more balanced digital city for all.
Andrew Rasiej is chairman of NY Tech Meetup and founder of Personal Democracy Media.