New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Kristen Meriwether

Gotham Gazette New Class Offers Officials Crash Course in Civic Tech by Kristen Meriwether

New Class Offers Officials Crash Course in Civic Tech

With the data available these days, there is no shortage of app ideas and app makers. In cities like New York, which have a robust civic technology community, hacknights to dive into government data and solve civic problems are held on a regular basis.

While the creation of apps, and the push by civic technologists for even more data, is common, getting those apps picked up and used by cities and citizens is a different story. There are a variety of roadblocks, many involving government regulations not designed for the 21st century.

Bureaucracy is set up to say "no" to disruption. Often, mechanisms are in place to protect a city from fraud and corruption. But in a time when technological advances far outpace the speed of government, innovation can be stifled and frustration rampant.

So how do you prepare the next wave of civic innovators to deal with the "no" machine? Furthermore, how do you create and design a project that will not only benefit citizens, but also get a "yes" from government and its constituents?

Until recently those answers have been hard to come by for people without government experience. But the GovLab at NYU is working to change that. On March 2 the GovLab Academy will offer an eight-week course on civic tech for local elected officials and their staff members. The class will meet online every other Monday and include one-on-one coaching sessions.

Gotham Gazette More Bus Data, Better Bus Service: Kallos, Hackers Nudge MTA by Kristen Meriwether

More Bus Data, Better Bus Service: Kallos, Hackers Nudge MTA

Few things are more annoying than waiting for a bus when the weather isn't good. You're cold, you're wet, and the bus schedule said it would arrive at 9:05. It's 9:21. Where's your bus?

Technological advancements have given New York City straphangers some relief with the Real-Time Bus app, which allows users to see how far away their bus actually is. More recently, a collection of city council members used discretionary funding towardmore countdown clocks for additional bus stops, an especially useful tool for those without smartphones.

But what if your bus is always late? Sure, it's good to know how long you will have to wait (and maybe have time to grab a cup of coffee nearby to warm up) - but is anyone actually doing anything about it?

When Council Member Ben Kallos took office in 2014, he said slow or unreliable bus service was among his constituents' chief complaints. Kallos' district spans much of the Upper East Side and includes bus-heavy 1st and 2nd Avenues. The new council member began forwarding complaints to the MTA, but wasn't finding the relief he or his constituents were looking for.

Gotham Gazette 'Slow' Protest to Show Need for Net Neutrality by Kristen Meriwether

'Slow' Protest to Show Need for Net Neutrality

If you happen to visit New York City Council Member Ben Kallos' website on Wednesday you may notice a loading icon at the top of the page. No, he's not having website troubles and you are not experiencing internet problems. Kallos, who is also a software developer and chair of the council's government operations committee, is participating in the worldwide "Internet Slowdown" protest.

Kallos is joining the likes of reddit, Vimeo, and Wordpress (to name just a few of the many) who are protesting rules currently being proposed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that would create tiered internet speeds. If passed, companies or citizens willing and able to pay more could use "fast lanes" whereas companies or citizens with more modest financial means would be relegated to using "slow lanes."

"Under possible new rules to be determined by the FCC, the sites that most New Yorkers enjoy would likely be slowed down," Kallos said in a statement. "Instead of a divided Internet, New York City and this country want one Internet that works."

Gotham Gazette De Blasio Signs Bill, Embraces Civic Tech Community for City Record Online by Kristen Meriwether

De Blasio Signs Bill, Embraces Civic Tech Community for City Record Online

On Thursday, August 7th, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed new legislation that will start the process of creating a new, data-friendly online portal for the City Record. The bill, introduced by Council Member Ben Kallos, requires the City Record be published in a machine-readable format and be fully searchable. In addition, the administration will, for the first time, formally partner with the civic tech community to ensure the backlog of City Records are in the same format.

Gotham Gazette Despite Administration Launch, Legislators & Advocates Vow to Move Forward on Open FOIL by Kristen Meriwether

Despite Administration Launch, Legislators & Advocates Vow to Move Forward on Open FOIL

If the City Hall FOIL tracker was unveiled as a way to quell the call for legislation, it didn't work. Gotham Gazette reached out to the stakeholders behind the bill and found unanimous support for the legislation and an unfettered desire to continue to push for it.

"This legislation is here to stay," Council Member Ben Kallos, who is one of three lead sponsors on the bill, said following the hearing June 9. "It is here to be passed. It is here to become law. It is just a matter of time."

"The mayor's office has a good start, as far as their tracker, but I still support our legislation," Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, another lead sponsor, said June 11 at City Hall. She added she is open to meeting with the mayor's office to discuss their concerns and changes needed to get the bill passed. Kallos expressed a similar desire to work with City Hall on the bill.

Gotham Gazette At City Hall, Competing Visions of Open FOIL by Kristen Meriwether

At City Hall, Competing Visions of Open FOIL

The Council bill, as introduced by Council Member Ben Kallos, would require all city agencies to be on an Open FOIL portal within one year. The bill would require much more robust reporting from the City. As proposed, the bill would not show the name of the requester, but would have a status, date submitted and filled, as well as the data from the request.

Gotham Gazette The Week Ahead in New York Politics, June 8 by Kristen Meriwether

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, June 8

Council Member Ben Kallos and the government operations committee he chairs are set to hold two interesting hearings on Monday. First, at 10 a.m., the committee will look at the issue of extending community board eligibility to 16 and 17-year-olds, considering a resolution recommending passage of a bill in Albany that would allow such an extension.

Then, the highly-anticipated Open FOIL bill will get its first hearing at 1 p.m. The bill, introduced by Kallos, would create an online portal allowing people to see the status of FOIL requests. One of the issues expected to be be brought up is whether the name and organization of the person submitting the request would be published. For the average citizen looking to obtain records, having their name on the portal will likely not be a big deal. But for journalists having their name and type of information they are requesting in an online portal could tip off their competition and jeopardize a story.

The government ops committee will be meeting along with the technology committee, chaired by CM Jimmy Vacca, and council members will be discussing Open FOIL and two other open gov bills.

Gotham Gazette Kallos Seeks Overhaul Through Open Source by Kristen Meriwether

Kallos Seeks Overhaul Through Open Source

On Thursday, Council Member Ben Kallos will introduce the Free and Open Source Software Act that, if passed by the City Council, would bring the requirement to New York. The law would require the City to look first to open source software before purchasing proprietary software. In addition, Kallos, chair of the Council's government operations committee, will introduce a Civic Commons bill to create a central site to store all of the open source software the City uses which could promote sharing among cities.

"Free and open-sourced software is something that has been used in private sector and in fact by most people in their homes for more than a decade now, if not a generation," Kallos said by phone on Wednesday, May 28. "It is time for government to modernize and start appreciating the same cost savings as everyone else."

Gotham Gazette Council 2.0: Rules Reform Outlines Next Steps in Open Data by Kristen Meriwether

Council 2.0: Rules Reform Outlines Next Steps in Open Data

"By opening up the legislative process with an open API we can empower civic hackersand entrepreneurs to create applications that make our government accessible and accountable to all New Yorkers," Council Member Ben Kallos said in an emailed statement. Kallos, a long-time open data advocate, said he applauds the rules reform, adding it is a technological leap forward.