Way before he became the city of New York’s chief technology officer, Miguel Gamiño Jr. was the founder of multiple startups in El Paso, Texas. Now he’s trying to bring that experience to bear to make New York a more digital, efficient and equitable city for its residents.
“The bottom line is that because I was a former startup guy and then I’ve converted into a public servant, I think I have a very interesting view of those two worlds and maybe I can appreciate how they fit together better than some other people on only one side of the fence,” he told Technical.ly by phone last week.
The CTO’s plans are threefold:
- Build broadband infrastructure that connects all of the city’s residents and businesses to fast internet
- Incorporate the “internet of things” into the management of city infrastructure and services
- Digitize cumbersome official tasks and paperwork to improve user experience
“The story I tell is, imagine a single mother with a kid or two and works an hourly job or two,” Gamiño explained. “She qualifies for maybe two or three programs the city offers funded by taxpayers. But most of the time, in order for her to let us know she exists and qualifies, she’s gotta typically stand in line somewhere and fill out a bunch of forms. I’m not saying technology itself fixes that but if we create an alternative for her to submit that information or engage with us wherever necessary at her convenience then she doesn’t have to take off a day of work or spend money for childcare unnecessarily.”
One of Gamiño’s projects currently underway is called NYCx. The initiative offers a small amount of prize money and support for startups to solve specific neighborhood problems. (For one challenge, three finalists will receive up to $25,000 each; in another, winning teams receive up to $20,000 in funding.) Two out of the first three challenges are in Brownsville, one of which is called Safe and Thriving Nighttime Corridors. It’s looking for startups to work on enhancing the experience of public space at night in Brownsville, specifically in Osborn Plaza, the Belmont Avenue Business Corridor and Rockaway Avenue.
“NYCx is intended to facilitate a shift in the relationship between the industry the government and the community,” Gamiño explained. His vision for the future is to see more collaboration between the city and the innovative tech sector growing in it.
One of the foundational issues in the Brooklyn tech scene is the gentrification it produces. Longtime residents in Downtown Brooklyn, Gowanus and Sunset Park are seeing their rent rise along with the growth of the tech economies in these neighborhoods. The success of the industry is making at least their lives harder, more expensive, and more frustrating. In our conversation, Gamiño made the point repeatedly that an equitable distribution of the fruits of tech sector ingenuity is at the bedrock of what he’d like to achieve in New York.
“If we don’t ensure that everyone has access to the digital future then we’re going to create further disparity between those who will enjoy the advantages of technology in the future and those who are left behind,” he said. “If we accomplish that, then everything else we talk about will matter because it will benefit everyone in New York. If we don’t, then we’re at the risk of creating progress for some and regress for others.”
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