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Innovation and the City: 15 Policies for New York and Beyond

June 21, 2013

CREDIT: Ars Electronia (CC).

By Center for an Urban Future and NYU Wagner

With Washington trapped in budget battles and partisan gridlock, cities have emerged as the best source of government innovation. Nowhere is this more visible than in New York City.

Since taking office in 2002, Mayor Bloomberg has introduced a steady stream of innovative policies, from a competition to recruit a new applied sciences campus and a far-reaching sustainability plan, to micro-apartments and a first-in-the-nation Office of Financial Empowerment. Some reforms have been more successful than others, and some more widely embraced by New Yorkers, but these policy innovations have undeniably reshaped city government, improving service delivery and sparking economic growth.

Yet for all of Mayor Bloomberg's achievements, many problems will remain when he exits City Hall at the end of the year. To successfully address these challenges, the next mayor will have to be as ambitious, experimental and innovative as his or her predecessor.

And just as Mayor Bloomberg drew inspiration from cities around the world, the next mayor needn't reinvent the wheel. As we detail in this report, cities across the country and around the globe—from Chicago and Denver to Seattle and London—have pioneered a number of innovative government initiatives. The best of these reforms have clear potential for replication in New York.

Over the last six months, researchers at the Center for an Urban Future and NYU Wagner interviewed nearly 200 policy experts in cities across the country and around the globe, looking for game-changing reforms that have proven effective in other cities, that are scalable in New York and that the next mayor could implement. This report, "Innovation and the City," presents 15 of the most promising reforms—from San Francisco's bold plan to establish a $50 college savings account for every kindergartener in public school, to Boston's pioneering approach to remaking the 311 system for today's smartphone age and London's ambitious experiment with crowdfunding for public infrastructure projects.

Mayoral transitions present a unique opportunity to develop new and innovative policy ideas. As Mayor Bloomberg has noted, a mayor must have the courage to fail in order to see what works. Yet once in office, this failure is less tolerated. Politicians are expected to get it right the first time, right out of the gate.

This effort—which we have referred to as the Mayoral Policy Lab—aims to invigorate the cycle of innovation and experimentation. Providing a new twist on the election cycle debate, we offer the New York City mayoral candidates a menu of practical policy ideas drawn from the most inspired policies in the most vibrant cities around the country and the world. If cities are our "laboratories of innovation," our research provides rigorous policy "experiments," offering novel, proven and scalable reforms that can improve, and possibly transform, the city.

This policy lab has been rooted in a unique partnership: the Center for an Urban Future, one of New York's leading think tanks, paired with NYU Wagner, a public service graduate school known for blending theory and practice. The entire effort has been supported by Citi, whose work through Citi Community Development and the Citi for Cities initiative is focused on fostering urban innovation throughout the world.

More than a casual scan, we developed a rigorous and unique vetting process. In fact, we know of no other attempts to systematically curate innovative reforms and customize them for a new City administration. Our research methodology operated much like a funnel: broadly identifying new ideas at first, systematically winnowing them down, and then carefully tailoring the final slate of reforms to New York's needs and character. The process is more precisely captured below.

In the first phase, we cast a wide net, interviewing roughly 200 policy experts from outside of New York. This included current and former mayors and chiefs of staff in cities around the world, as well as leading thinkers from philanthropic foundations, policy institutes, corporations, labor unions and advocacy groups. We also reviewed hundreds of articles, policy briefs and books reporting on noteworthy innovations.

The result was a first cut of 120 policies meriting a closer look. To gauge their feasibility in New York, we assessed these ideas with policy experts from around the five boroughs, many of whom are veterans of city government. As anticipated, we found the vast majority of our initial ideas either unworkable in New York or already being implemented by the Bloomberg administration. This left us with 20 promising reforms that both complemented and could be brought to scale in New York's unique policy terrain.

In our final phase, we selected a group of 40 leaders from the city's business, philanthropic and nonprofit sectors. At two expert roundtables held in late March 2013 at NYU Wagner, this brain trust provided input on our ideas, outlining how to improve some and recommending others be eliminated entirely.

The feedback from these convenings resulted in a final list of 15 policies, all of which are laid out in detail in this report. It is a wide-ranging collection of reforms road-tested and retrofitted for New York. Some ideas are grand in scale: a citywide evaluation system for all nonprofits in London, and the introduction of digital badging to provide alternative credentials for non-academic skills acquisition.

Others are simply good management tools, providing a platform for continued innovation. The Denver Peak Academy, for instance, provides innovation training to line-level agency staff, and the Chicago Loan Fund supports extended agency collaboration to stimulate efficiency and cost-savings.

The innovations are not listed in a particular order, as we believe each will appeal to different needs the city will face. Collectively, these ideas provide a roadmap for the next mayor, addressing key challenges and helping to ensure that New York remains effective and efficient in a period of declining federal support.

But New York is not the only city that can benefit from this inventory of innovation. Los Angeles and Minneapolis will be electing new mayors, and municipal leaders everywhere are facing significant challenges. We hope these ideas will inspire innovation throughout the country, in 2014 and beyond.

External Link: CONTINUE READING: Innovation and the City

Read More: Business, Cities, Democracy, Economy, Education, Energy, Environment, Finance, Health, Innovation, Jobs, Science, Sustainability, Transportation, United Kingdom, United States, Americas, Asia, Europe

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