“Innovation in City Agencies”: at the Italian Consulate We Talk About the Future – La Voce di New York

The Italian Consulate of New York, in partnership with Sity and the Comites of NY, hosted a unique event, the first of this kind at the Consulate.

The event took the form of an interactive discussion featuring the Columbia University video case study: “Smarter NYC: How Cities Agencies Innovate in a Time of Crisis” This case study features the New York City Fire Department, the Emergency Medical Services, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Education, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and the New York City Economic Development Corporation.

After the welcome remarks from the Italian General Counsel Fabrizio Di Michele, who expressed words of gratitude towards the organizer of this event, Mr. Gianluca Galletto, Co-Founder and Chair, Sity, and Mr. Alessandro Crocco, President of the Comites, the moderator, Gianluca Galletto, introduced the speakers- André Corrêa d’Almeida, Associate Director and Adjunct Professor, Columbia University and founder, All4Integrity, also a famous book Author on Urban Innovation and Minerva Tantoco, Chief AI Officer, NYU McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research and first ever CTO of NYC.

The three panelists have been colleagues and partners in the NYC Administration and in private projects. Gianluca Galletto is a veteran in the urban innovation and tech scene in New York, an advisor to former Mayor de Blasio, having served as the head of international trade and investment for the City of NY, working at the Mayor’s Office, the New York City Economic Development Corporation, and the New York City Housing Authority. The panelists engaged the packed room of attendees exploring how NYC’s massive administration has introduced innovations over the past years and especially during the pandemic.

The question was: what can we learn from innovation in crisis that we can apply at all other times? Especially since, as Prof. Almeida said, “we are going to experience more crises, more frequently”. Why can’t the sense of urgency for innovation, so critical to cope with emergencies, be “normalized” and speed up policy/program adoption, say, to fight inequality? NYC’s response to the pandemic can serve as a real example of how city government, and especially local and city agencies, can make real innovation. For example, NYC was able to start the Pandemic Response Lab with a public-private collaboration with a robotics company based in NY and other life sciences companies in a matter of two weeks– a task that normally would take at least one year.

It provided hundreds of thousands of tests. Now, it is about time to take the hard lesson learned and put that into practice even during the daily and minor ordinary crises that public agencies must deal with daily. The very engaged public asked great questions and offered some food for thought, such as applying NYC’s model to places that have fewer resources. The panel – and the people interviewed in the video – argued that innovation can happen in any city, whether small or big, and offered a blueprint for any other local governments. 

Data and Information technology are only two of many levers to use. Leadership, collaboration, co-creation and cooperation, monitoring and evaluation are critical as well. In NYC they found a way for private and public agencies to cooperate and put the best effort into serving the public in a way that has never been done before, creating and making available to all structures, software, and policies in a quick manner. 

Sity is an old English word that means “seat”. It also sounds like city to make a reference to the epitome of the city, New York. Most of the problems that societies face today are to be found in cities, urban centers and their network of relationships with urban and rural areas–it is also where their solutions originate. Sity, founded by Italian New Yorkers, aims to build a global community of people who share the values of sustainability and equity. The organization was born to promote debate on purpose-driven innovation and to devise solutions for societal problems: inequality, access to housing and education, economic development, and the fight against climate change. 

The Comites of New York is a body that is directly elected by Italian citizens residing in the states of NY, NJ, CT, and Bermuda and represents them at the General Consulate and the Embassy of Italy. They represent the Italian and Italian-American communities by promoting their social, economic, cultural, and political interests, in addition to preserving the historical memory of Italian immigration.