April 14, 2016

Eric Adams:
Data can help build
a smarter Brooklyn

Before I was Brooklyn borough president, a state senator, or even a police officer, I was an aspiring techie.

I studied computers as a college student in the early 1980s with the goal of one day becoming a programmer. Data has long been a fascination of mine, particularly its ability to quantify the complex world around us into comprehendible patterns that reveal solutions to everyday challenges. One of my proudest achievements during my service in the New York City Police Department was my work with Commissioner Bill Bratton and the late Jack Maple as they built CompStat, a revolutionary management system that mobilized data to bring a dynamic approach to law enforcement, leading to significant reductions in crime across the five boroughs. It is my belief that we need to apply a CompStat-like tactic throughout government, assessing in real time the challenges that communities face and our deployment of resources.

My hopes for Brooklyn, a borough that reflects the greatest possibilities and gravest pitfalls facing residents of New York City, lie in our ability to best use technology as a tool for the civic good. We have made great strides in this arena by increasing the availability and readability of open data, which has allowed individuals and organizations to marshal machine-readable information into maps, infographics and other modalities that assist community advocacy and guide policymaking. There is limitless potential lying in these numbers, opportunities for us to track urban challenges in a real-time fashion that will transform the delivery of essential services. This was the potential I saw in envisioning a “BrooklynSTAT”-like system for better managing our borough, and it is the potential that cities like Boston – which uses a couple dozen regularly updated metrics to better identify problems to leaders and citizens alike – have taken to the next level.

While I have worked alongside City Hall on several initiatives that can advance this strategy, I am convinced that we can go further. The next frontier is the smart city sector, and it’s one in which Brooklyn is already laying the groundwork to be a global leader. At its heart, this emerging field of innovation embraces a vision of urban development that securely integrates multiple data streams to better manage a city’s core assets. Even in its infancy, this industry is not only creating high-paying jobs in our borough, it is also driving results that will produce a more environmentally sustainable future and efficient government.

Brooklyn is home to dozens of these cutting-edge businesses and think tanks that are reimagining how cities function, using more accurate and real-time data to address challenges big and small. There’s DUMBO-based company flowthings.io, which creates software aiming to make government and businesses more efficient; in 2016, Forbes ranked them as a top-10 innovative firm. There’s also Heat Seek NYC, a start-up that won the 2014 NYC BigApps competition with its technology that uses sensor hardware and web applications to help landlords and tenants monitor heating during the winter months; I am working to see how we can bring this app and ones like it into buildings across the borough.

While we are developing the technology that is making smart cities come alive in 44 countries, including every continent but Antarctica, New York City has yet to get smart in implementing it in our own backyard. From Miami to Moscow, urban environments are being reimagined through data management and visualization platforms that are cutting down on long-term government costs while improving productivity across a variety of sectors. I am convinced that this industry is one that will reshape our economy and quality of life, and I am ready to get Brooklyn all-in to support their growth. I want this borough to be a leader in creating and employing technology that better monitors water and electricity usage in buildings, heating and cooling systems, as well as fire safety and accessibility. We can lead the way in developing tools to better track the threats to existing affordable housing units rather than lamenting their loss after it is too late, and we can devise solutions that revolutionize the approach to our street grid and its varied traffic patterns.

Brooklyn’s future is laid out in ones and zeroes, and we are ready with the technology to read it, shape it and deploy it better than any other municipality on the globe. That’s what will separate us from the rest as a truly “smart city.”

Eric L. Adams is the borough president of Brooklyn.