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Post-Bloomberg: Will Innovation in NYC Dry Up?

A new report gives the next mayor of New York City a set of innovative reforms that have proven effective and scalable in other cities.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg touring damage from Superstorm Sandy. (Photo: AP/New York City Hall, Edward Reed)
In his three terms as mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg has a lot of innovative accomplishments under his belt -- more than just about any big city mayor in America, or the world for that matter.

His 311 hotline revolutionized how citizens interact with government by merging new advances in technology with a level of customer service that is rare in the public sector. Bloomberg was the first big city mayor to ban smoking in restaurants and bars, sparking a trend that has swept through most large cities around the globe. He set up a competition to recruit a new applied science campus in the city, and led the way in making New York a leader in sustainability, improving New York's environment while nurturing economic growth. The list goes on.

But the Bloomberg era is drawing to a close as the city gears up to elect a new mayor for the first time since 2002. While many are wondering who the next mayor will be, a lot of academics, policymakers and city watchers are wondering if New York will lose its innovative edge without Bloomberg around.

To counter that problem, the Center for an Urban Future and New York University's Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service have jointly published a report that is designed to give the next mayor of America's largest city a set of innovative reforms that "have proven effective in other cities, that are scalable in New York and that the next mayor could implement."

Neil Kleiman, director of NYU's Wagner Innovation Lab and author of "Innovation and the City," pointed out in the report that Mayor Bloomberg drew inspiration for his innovations from cities around the world. The report follows the same, don't-reinvent-the-wheel approach by drawing on 15 proven reforms from such cities as Chicago, Denver, London and San Francisco.

The projects range across the board, from education and finance to infrastructure, transit and economic development. For example, San Francisco has set up a college savings plan for kindergartners; Denver has established an innovation school for agency staff; and Oakland has unveiled a new city government ID card that doubles as a debit card to encourage banking among the poor.

As Kleiman points out, the projects included in the report came about through a "rigorous and unique vetting process." The project team interviewed more than 200 policy experts across the country and in Europe; they originally examined 120 policies and eventually narrowed their choices down to the 15 finalists. "We know of no other attempts to systematically curate innovative reforms and customize them for a new city administration," he said.

While the innovative reforms are meant to spark discussion within New York City's next administration, Kleiman notes that the report will also be useful to new leaders in Los Angeles, Minneapolis and municipalities across the country. Having a ready list of innovative city policies could be a catalyst for change for urban leaders, he said.

As Bruce Katz, director of the Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Program has noted, cities and metro areas are increasingly on their own as the federal government remains gridlocked by partisan politics. Innovation at the local level will play an increasingly important role in the years ahead.

Tod is the editor of Governing . Previously, he was the senior editor at Government Technology and the editor of Public CIO, e.Republic’s award-winning publication for IT executives in the public sector, and is the author of several books on information management.
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