CTG UAlbany Examines Megacity Smartness

CTG UAlbany Examines Megacity Smartness

smart city

UAlbany News Release

ALBANY, N.Y. (July 21, 2020) – As cities around the world grapple with new challenges in the age of COVID-19, information sharing is taking on added importance to improve decision making and day-to-day operations.

CTG UAlbany researchers J. Ramon Gil-Garcia, Theresa Pardo and Manuel De Tuya recently completed an examination of the information sharing capabilities of two North American megacities, Mexico City and New York. Their paper, published in Urban Affairs Review, found that these metropolises share unique characteristics that helped them improve their smart city capabilities where smaller cities or larger state governments might face challenges.

The article, “Information Sharing as a Dimension of Smartness: Understanding Benefits and Challenges in Two Megacities,” looked at two integration service projects in the cities: New York’s NYC311 initiative, and Mexico City’s Angel Network Program, typically referred to as “Red Angel.”

In essence, they are looking for ways to make their cities smarter.

“The initiative in NYC is a traditional 311 system, while the initiative in Mexico City involves the integration of social services,” said Gil-Garcia, research director of CTG UAlbany and an associate professor of Public Administration and Policy at UAlbany’s Rockefeller College.

Both initiatives rely heavily on the ability of the cities to share information among city departments and agencies – a process that can be very complex due to the inherent involvement of a diverse group of stakeholders with political, organizational, legal, and technical requirements and therefore challenges such as limited technical skill sets, lack of funding, and data privacy and confidentiality.

“Building the appropriate coalitions within and across institutions and obtaining executive sponsorship for them are both important steps toward overcoming institutional barriers and eventually gaining support from decision makers,” continued Gil-Garcia.

Mexico City’s Angel Network Program, initially launched in 2010, was the result of over a decade of social policy development. It’s seen as an alternative way to deliver on social policies in an adverse economic environment where income inequalities, growing unemployment, and constrained public budgets threaten the livelihood of lower income individuals and families in a city with more than 20 million inhabitants.

NYC311 is grounded in the view that citizens should have a single point of contact for requesting services from their city government, be updated on the status of their requests, and ultimately provide feedback on the quality and efficiency of the services they receive through the utilization of customer relation management (CRM) technology.

Both programs were able to find success with these programs, particularly in customer service delivery and service quality. When they did face challenges, such as with technology, organizational issues or policy issues, the cities were able to cope through executive buy-in or legislative reform. In addition, the costs of the programs were only a small fraction of the cities’ overall budgets, creating economies of scale.

“Megapolises may have advantages typically found in larger government jurisdictions in terms of the availability of financial resources and technical skills,” said Pardo, CTG UAlbany Director and research professor in Public Administration and Policy at Rockefeller College. “These factors may help to explain the relative success of megacities in terms of information sharing projects because some of the technical and financial challenges are simply not present.”

In Mexico City, for instance, the government had to develop innovative policy reform where none had previously existed. They were able to achieve these ends, and with organizational reform led by the mayor, the program was able to provide stronger social services in a centralized, efficient manner.

“The highly prominent role of the mayors and an enterprise-wide view of the city government are not commonly mentioned as factors in existing information sharing research, yet they were found to be important in the two cases examined here,” said De Tuya. “More specifically, it seems that megacities have some of the advantages of state governments such as availability of financial resources and technical skills and the managerial flexibility and powerful leadership that characterize local governments.”

While information sharing challenges – such as technical skills and financial resources are frequently referenced as hurdles to building smart city capabilities, neither Mexico City or New York were confronted with these problems. These differences and particularities combined produce the unique and dynamic context of information sharing in megacities.