How might we develop ethical and equitable smart city technology in New York City?
In an urban context where resources are unequally distributed, how can technology be integrated into city infrastructure without increasing the disparity between affluent and under-resourced neighborhoods? The NYC Mayor's Office of Technology & Innovation was tasked with executing a bottom-up approach to smart city technology.
MOTI selected Brownsville, Brooklyn as its pilot neighborhood, and convened a team of local CBOs to recruit a cohort of local stakeholders who were already working on neighborhood revitalization projects.
I was invited to join the team as a design strategist under contract with the lead CBO, Brownsville Community Justice Center. On this core team I worked directly with MOTI to recruit the local stakeholder group, design and run capacity building workshops on the topic of smart cities and IOT technology, and draft a code of ethics to be incorporated into calls for innovation that city agencies would use to build new smart city technology in Brownsville.
The capacity building workshop series was designed to integrate new knowledge into existing capacities and expertise of the stakeholder cohort. The local experts invited to join the stakeholder group were already sophisticated drivers of local revitalization, but lacked sufficient literacy in smart city technology to evaluate what projects might look like on the ground in their neighborhood.
As a design team we struggled to deliver new and useful knowledge without reducing the value of the existing capacity and experience of each stakeholder team member. This presented an ethical challenge, one in which we sometimes failed and sometimes succeeded.
Prototyping & Insights
First guess prototypes were chosen based on initiatives and business relationships already active in city government. Through public events these connected objects were deployed into activated public space so we might observe their use.
By actively documenting each convening of the stakeholder group, and working with key stakeholders on the ground, I was able to capture the raw insights that was then edited by MOTI to fit into future calls for innovation.
Once the stakeholder group was formed, they continue to be actively engaged in future calls for innovaiton.
As new technology is prototyped in Brownsville, it will be rolled out in other neighborhoods across NYC. By incubating this technology in acutely vulnerable neighborhoods, and by engaging deeply committed members of the community in the process, the outcomes that are deployed through the city will be revitalizing development initiatives rather than forces for increasing the already severe resource disparity of NYC residents.