Creating Civic Value and Strengthening NYC’s Communities

So I’ve decided to stop publishing CitizeNYC’s news blog, and I’d like to explain my thinking.

First, I want to be clear that our goal on CitizeNYC was never to be just another news blog in New York City, because as a city we’ve already got some good ones.

Instead, we wanted to form a community hub to encourage people to connect with their neighbors, discuss local issues, and create civic value in their neighborhoods. Creating civic value is a problem I’ve been focused on for a long time, first at Keystone Politics, then in Congress, and then in the Bloomberg administration.

CitizeNYC was my latest attempt, birthed because a lot of the projects I proposed within the Bloomberg administration were shelved for being politically scary, which was a key reason I left government service.

In any case it’s a tough nut to crack, and I’ve paid close attention to Everyblock, SeeClickFix, Outside.In, and a bunch of other startups looking to localize information. They all have merits, and they’ve all made progress, but they share is a lack of motivating context and the necessary information for citizens and their neighbors to improve communities.

CitizeNYC’s goal was to make progress on that problem. You should not only be able to see what’s going on in your neighborhood, or around geographies and topics that interest you, but you should be able to take action and get organized as a community. It’s critical to our well-being as a democracy; though much of our lives have moved online, our civic tools haven’t caught up.

One of the key things we wanted to do was limit our contribution to a specific geographic area. I believe that a lot of smart people who are trying to create new things focus on “the world,” which is big and ambitious (and fantastic). I respect that, but I also think that trying to solve problems for the world means that you often can’t solve more specific problems.

Everyblock spent a lot of time and effort trying to overcome this. Cities store and release data in different ways, have different types of data, and their citizens need different things. We in NYC are not like people in Miami; not better or worse (though we NYers will clearly say better), but our specific political needs are necessarily different. The world is too diverse for them to be the same. So in the process of trying to politically empower everyone, everywhere, it’s easy to fall into a place where you help no one at all.

That’s how CitizeNYC came into being as an idea. I believed (and still believe) that if we focused on a single place and a single population, our endeavor would be more successful and that when we ran into product pitfalls, we could actually go to a community board or neighborhood meeting and see what we could do better to help empower communities.

The news blog that you’re familiar with wasn’t our goal, but more an avenue for me to better understand the city’s political dynamics to build a better product. So we’re shutting it down as we rethink the product and how to build it.

That means that I need to start doing what I’m good at, which is defining a great product vision and figuring out how to execute it. I’ve directed successful products at start-ups and enterprises, and it’s really the core of my career. Along the way, I’ve learned a fair bit of engineering and programming, but I’m not a developer.

Over the next six months, I’ll be out and about, looking for some partners (for-profit and/or non-profit) and trying to get talented people interested in figuring out ways to enable New Yorkers to create civic value and strengthen communities.

I hope you’ll be interested, and if you want to contribute, get in touch.

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