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This seminar explores the impact of technology on how we govern our cities. With most of the world's population living in cities, a proportion which will continue to grow, cities face the challenge of how to improve economic and social opportunity while reducing risk to the environment and social cohesion. For better or worse, in many cases, cities are on the front line of tackling major societal problems such as climate change and poverty long before nation states. In this course, we focus specifically on the relationship between governing and well-being in urban environments, exploring the technological and institutional innovations that are enabling some cities to tackle societal problems, combat inequality, stimulate cultural creativity, and foster stronger democracy and better quality of life while others are falling behind. The course is built around readings, discussions, visiting speakers, and hands-on workshops introducing data-rich and participatory design methodologies. We start by defining the meaning of governing in a democracy and look at how the advent of new technologies, including big data, the technologies of collective intelligence and artificial intelligence might change how cities solve problems and make decisions in the public interest. We apply what we are learning to explore innovations underway in different cities around the world. In parallel, we will work on a real-world urban innovation project.


Read the syllabus here.

Project: “Crowdlaw”: Online Public Participation in Lawmaking

Client: New York City Council

Issue: Participatory/crowdsourced lawmaking; citizen engagement

Student Team: Yuan (Steven) Qin, Sang Won You, Rupal Mehta, Nicolas Parada, Jiaming Wu, Jeen Snidvongs, Angel Chen, Alvand Daghoghi

Term: Spring ‘18

The Problem: With rates of trust in government at historic lows, the legitimacy of traditional representative models of lawmaking — often conducted by professional staff and politicians working behind closed doors and distorted by political party agendas–is called into question. New forms of public participation could help to improve both legitimacy and effectiveness by introducing more data and diverse viewpoints at each stage of the lawmaking process.

Project Description: The New York City Council is exploring whether they can improve the city’s law and policymaking and service delivery by means of citizen engagement and crowdsourcing. The team’s goal was to further research and discussion on instances of citizen participation in law and policymaking throughout the world and articulate how the initiatives could be useful if applied in the context of New York City. Each team member was tasked with analyzing a specific case using a framework of the legislative process, identifying its impact, successes, and shortcomings, and suggesting how learnings from the model could be adapted for use in the NYC Council. Results from each case study were presented in the form of a research paper and slide deck, and each student also published a separate blog post unrelated to the topic of their cases.

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