New York City’s Plan to Be ‘Top-Ranked Digital City’

Mayor Bloomberg, CDO Rachel Sterne release 90-day report

Flanked by representatives from Twitter, Tumblr, and Foursquare, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chief Digital Officer Rachel Sterne held a live press conference Monday morning at City Hall announcing the release of “Road Map for the Digital City,” Sterne’s 90-day report on how to establish New York “as the world’s top-ranked Digital City, based on indices of Internet access, Open Government, citizen engagement, and industry growth.”

Included in the 60-page report—Sterne’s first assignment as CDO, a position she was appointed to in January—was the announcement that the city has partnered with Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Foursquare to launch official accounts on each social network that will serve as “one-stop shops” for city news and feedback from citizens. In addition, the mayor announced that New York would “unlock important public information” and increase access to WiFi in parks and other public areas.

“This is not just some wonky stuff,” Bloomberg said during the press conference, which was streamed live on the city’s website. “This is the stuff that really makes a difference, day in and day out.”

But little was said about the fourth pillar of the plan, which is arguably the most significant in terms of establishing “world” leadership—industry growth. Beyond such wonky terms as “workforce development” and “a more streamlined path to do business,” the city only announced the establishment of a new engineering institution to recruit more developers and the pursuit of the .nyc domain.

The initiatives are a small boon to the city’s digital growth, but Bloomberg has higher hopes. “We are going to be the IT capital of the world,” he said. “New York may be where the next Google or Facebook gets born, or has already been born.”

Yet, when asked to comment on how far New York had to go to before it caught up with Silicon Valley, the mayor brushed the question off. “The premise of your questions is ridiculous,” he said, adding that nobody would want a mayor who didn’t “hope” for his city to be the best.

Of course, the city, which just surpassed Boston in venture capital funding, needs more than hope. Even Fred Wilson, New York’s leading venture capitalist, has acknowledged that Silicon Alley needs an IPO from a major, sustainable company before New York can begin to really compete with California.

But Andrew Rasiej, the founder and publisher of Personal Democracy Forum, thinks New York can establish a different narrative of digital growth. “I think that thinking of one company that stands out, like Google, is a mistake,” he said. “I think what’s more valuable is the long tail, which is, that there will be hundreds of companies that have large value—so that, together, they have a higher market cap than Google.”

New York’s access to other industries, including media and advertising, makes it attractive to startups looking to match technology with content. But, as Rasiej acknowledged, “the threat to New York City is [attracting] developers.” The city’s new engineering institution, headed by the Economic Development Council, is certainly a step in the right direction. Its progress will be measured a year from now when Sterne files her next report.