NYC Digital part of the mayor's office of media and entertainment
Digital Cities Symposium


The Digital Roadmap included a proposal for an international convening of major cities to discuss shared challenges and opportunities, and cities around the world responded enthusiastically with interest in contributing to this crucial dialog and helping to shape their common digital future.

Building on this momentum, in order to cultivate a meaningful platform for cities to openly share progress and approaches to reaching their digital potential, NYC Digital and the Mayor’s Office for International Affairs convened the first Digital Cities Symposium on May 20, 2013 in New York City at General Assembly, an education and co-working campus for technologists and designers.

The Symposium, featuring 15 cities from around the world, aimed to create a global forum for city government practitioners to share best practices in digital development, discuss parallel challenges, highlight progress and advise on approaches to innovation in the areas of Access, Education, Open Government, Engagement and Industry – the five pillars New York City’s Digital Roadmap.

Participating cities in the Digital Cities Symposium include:

  • Beijing
  • Belfast
  • Boston
  • Buenos Aires
  • Chicago
  • Helsinki
  • London
  • New York City
  • Ottawa
  • Paris
  • Philadelphia
  • Quebec City
  • Rio de Janerio
  • Singapore
  • Tokyo


The day began with a warm welcome from Commissioner Marjorie B. Tiven of the Mayor’s Office for International Affairs and board member of New York City Global Partners, Inc., who spoke about the importance of international dialogue among cities and share examples of digital investments by foreign governments in New York City’s technology economy. Matthew O. Brimer, co-founder of host General Assembly, welcomed the group as well and gave a brief introduction on General Assembly’s model for teaching digital skills and international scope.

Commissioner Oliver welcomed guests and shared highlights from the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment’s commitment to supporting the technology and film, television and entertainment industry, as seen in the case of the Made In NY Media Center, a new co-working, incubator and educational resource set to open in DUMBO, Brooklyn this year.

Next, New York City’s Chief Digital Officer Rachel Haot presented an overview of the five areas of New York City’s Digital Roadmap – each of which framed a roundtable discussion during the course of the Symposium. Each roundtable began with a presentation from a visiting city, providing an in-depth look at progress on that particular area of the Roadmap; followed by a moderated discussion, opening the topic for input from all participants.


The first roundtable began with a presentation on Access and Infrastructure, presented by Aaron Lye, Senior Assistant Director, Content Development at the Ministry of Communications and Information in Singapore. Mr. Lye shared Singapore’s Wireless @SG initiative in providing free WiFi in all highly trafficked areas of the city, the government’s plan to build a national fiber network, and how Singapore is bridging the digital divide through the Silver Infocomm Initiative for senior citizens by subsidizing purchases of technology equipment and focusing on building awareness through education.

Susan Crawford, a distinguished professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, author of Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age and expert on telecommunications and information law, moderated the discussion, touching on how cities are adopting fiber connectivity, the challenges of infrastructure, the cost of access, the relationship between private sectors versus wholesalers, and the path to closing the digital divide.


Kicking off the roundtable on Education, Mika Lappalainen, Editor-in-Chief of the City of Helsinki’s Website (, presented an overview of digital education in Helsinki and programs and universities offering tech and ICT education, such as the Aurinkolahti Comprehensive School, which teaches students grades 7-9 courses in coding, word processing, and graphic design. Throughout his presentation, Mr. Lappalainen emphasized Finland’s philosophy of continuing education and the need for educated and technology-minded teachers.

To transition the conversation on education to the group, moderator Vanda Belusic, Executive Director, Office of Postsecondary Readiness at the New York City Department of Education, asked each city representative to share what technology in schools looks like in their city and how their cities are preparing teachers. Common themes developed around generating student interests in taking STEM and skills-based courses, tailoring curriculum to meet interdisciplinary application, and connecting more entrepreneurs and startups in communities to inspire.

Open Government

Gonzalo Iglesias, Deputy Director of the Buenos Aires Open Government Office, shared how the office is working to empower citizens, improve service delivery and create an innovative city. Mr. Iglesias introduced Buenos Aires’s Push/Pull strategy for Open Government: providing supply as a platform through open data and open policy as the “push”; and drawing in the open data community through hackathons and marketing their creations as the “pull.” The City of Buenos Aires’s has hosted two hackathons, with the second engaging more than 200 developers and 500 public servants, and recently launched “The Lab,” a co-working space for hackathon workers to build and innovate over the next year.

The discussion around Open Government, led by New York City’s Chief Digital Officer Rachel Haot, addressed the challenges in measuring success and impact in data application, the importance of messaging the purpose of data and providing more guidance and direction with respect to open data policies. The participants also agreed that based on internal measurements and qualitative feedback from the developer community, geographic data is one of the most requested data sets.


Delivering an in-depth look at best practices for engagement and initiatives at the City of Boston, Nigel Jacob, Co-Chair of the Mayor’s Office for New Urban Mechanics opened his presentation with a quote by Jane Jacobs, “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.” Mr. Jacob explained his Office’s approach for launching new ideas by first identifying individuals inside and outside government with fresh ideas for city service delivery. Then, pilot the ideas that have a potential for maximum public impact with a minimal cost to implement. Finally, scale and share via an iterative process. Projects that have developed through this process include the CityWorker app, Street Bump app for tracking potholes, Donate Data Initiative, and City Hall to Go.

In the Engagement roundtable, moderated by Ivy Li, Digital Communications Director at NYC Digital, participants shared their approach for a decentralized social media strategy, using mobile SMS to provide service delivery, preparing and coordinating digital customer service for major events and emergencies, and sustaining engagement after a critical event. To prepare for the rush of visitors and communications needs expected for the upcoming 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Chief Digital Officer Pedro Peracio stated that the city has built a new command operations center to monitor real-time data. John Tolva, the City of Chicago’s Chief Technology Officer, made a final point that cities should never let a controversy or emergency pass without using the opportunity to build digital engagement.


Building on the entrepreneurial energy at Internet Week NY, Ziv Navoth an advisor to Tech City organization gave a presentation on the growing tech industry in London. Since Prime Minister David Cameron assumed office in 2010, East London has expanded from around 100 tech companies to more than 1,300 homegrown tech startups. Seed investments have increased thanks to tax benefits for individuals investing in small and early stage startups, and more focus is centered on developing new policies to help entrepreneurs expand and launch their companies in London.

As part of the Industry roundtable led by Mr. Navoth, key concepts centered on connecting industry members with opportunities to give back to the community, developing incentives such as tax benefits and promotional opportunities that make it easier to launch and grow a business, and forming public-private partnerships and events with the City. Lei Wang, Representative, Administrative Committee of Zhongguancun Science Park (ZPark) in Beijing, referenced how government can assist entrepreneurs looking for office space by building specialized parks and industry-focused neighborhoods. As an example, ZPark is home to more than 20,000 technology and science companies. Participants also raised the importance of local tech companies going public and measures to keep startup IPOs close to home.

Internet Week NY

In addition to participating in the roundtable discussions around the five areas of the Digital Roadmap, Symposium participants were invited to highlight one initiative from their city on stage at the Internet Week NY panel, “Digital Cities Speed Round.” In 90 seconds or less, city representatives spoke about how their cities are leveraging technology to expand Internet access, spark innovation, enhance public service delivery and support the local technology industry.

Media Highlights:
Cities Worldwide Address Urban Issues Using Digital Technology
Boston and Other "Digital Cities" Visit Internet Week New York

Digital Cities Council

Building on the Digital Cities Symposium, NYC Digital and the Mayor’s Office for International Affairs will invite Symposium attendees to participate in the formation of the Digital Cities Council, a platform for city government practitioners around the world to share best practices on digital development, discuss parallel challenges, highlight progress and advise on approaches to innovation in the areas of Access, Education, Open Government, Engagement and Industry.

Council cities commit to contributing to an ongoing dialogue among governments and pledge to openly share progress and best practices for advancing technology. To facilitate effective collaboration, the Council, in partnership with General Assembly, will develop a Digital Cities Library to present case studies on digital achievement, strategies for civic engagement, methods for measuring progress and new initiatives. Additionally, NYC Global Partners will feature these case studies on its Innovation Exchange website, an online resource bank of best practices from cities world. Case studies will be available to the public, serving as a model for government transparency.

Thank you to city representatives: Sandrine Baraton (City of Paris); Tommy Barr (City of Belfast); Isabelle DuBois (City of Quebec); Jeff Friedman (City of Philadelphia); Gonzalo Iglesias (City of Buenos Aires); Rie Imazeki (City of Tokyo); Nigel Jacob (City of Boston); Mika Lappalainen (City of Helsinki); Aaron Lye (City of Singapore); Ziv Navoth (Tech City, London); Pedro Peracio (City of Rio de Janeiro); Council Tim Tierney (City of Ottawa); John Tolva (City of Chicago); Lei Wang (Zhongguancun Science Park, Beijing); and Eero Waronen (City of Helsinki).

Special thanks to Commissioner Katherine Oliver of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment; Commissioner Marjorie Tiven of the Mayor’s Office for International Affairs; hosts Matt Brimer and Jessica Vollman of General Assembly; Allison Arden of Internet Week NY, moderators Susan Crawford, Vanda Belusic, and Ziv Navoth; special guests Philip Ashlock, Ben Branham; Dmytro Pokhylko; Michael Preston, Stefaan Velhurst, the New York City SMART team; Dhruv Singh and Lana DellaGala of Savory NYC for generously providing breakfast and lunch; and Carla Azar, Anissa Bazari, Sean Coburn, Aneri Kothari, Jake Goldman, Seema Shah, Nikki Nolan, Christina Cioffe, Samantha Grassle, Erica Matsumoto, and Luis Palacios.