Resilient Networks for RISE : NYC Takes Off

New America’s Resilient Communities (RC) program and the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) have kicked off their “Resilient Networks” partnership with a series of citywide convenings over July and August.

“Resilient Networks” is one of 11 projects being implemented through NYCEDC’s Resilient Innovations for a Stronger Economy (RISE : NYC) program, and features collaboration among six community-based organizations, each based in one of New York City’s flood zones. Each local partner is leading the development of storm-ready digital infrastructure in their local neighborhood and training a corps of local Digital Stewards to install and maintain its network. All partners will be supported by the Resilient Communities team as well as its technical implementation partner Sky-Packets, a citywide leader in wireless network installations.

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At convenings at NYCEDC’s offices and Civic Hall, leaders from the six community organizations shared their vision for their local wireless networks and explained how participation in the RISE program would support their organization’s broader local goals and mission. Together with officials from the Mayor’s Office, the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, the Mayor’s Office of Resilience and Recovery, and other City representatives, the local leaders discussed shared goals for all of the RISE networks citywide.

For some partners, planning for the networks is based primarily on the community’s experiences during Superstorm Sandy. Kevin Alexander, President of the Rockaway Development and Revitalization Corporation (RDRC), described the physical isolation experienced in Far Rockaway in 2013. “Everything went out; from an economic development standpoint, our economy tanked.” For RDRC, the RISE network will provide an important resource for continuity of business services as well as general community preparedness in Far Rockaway, creating benefits in the areas of housing, transportation, communications, as well as strengthening local businesses.

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Similarly, citing an over 70% denial rate on Sandy-related flood insurance claims in New York City’s hardest-hit zip code, Vadim Shiglik, Special Projects Director at the Kings Bay Y and Director of the Empowering Sheepshead Recovery Coalition, described the RISE network as an essential support and preparedness resource for both local businesses and residents. The Kings Bay Y has also just been designated as a New York State Rising Evacuation Center, receiving funding from the State to obtain generators and other preparedness resources. Given the linguistic diversity of the Sheepshead Bay community -- with 50% of the community’s residents speaking languages other than English at home, including Turkish, Russian, and Chinese --  the Y has become a unique gathering-place in the area, bringing all of these language communities together to build preparedness.

Karen Jackson, Director of Sandy Recovery for Project Hospitality (PH) in Staten Island, spoke about PH’s sponsorship of the the Staten Island Long-Term Recovery Organization (SILTRO), which is currently working with block captains in the hard-hit Midland Beach community to organize for better preparedness. Yet the Midland Beach wireless network, like most of the other RISE networks, will also provide a workforce development opportunity for local residents. Block captains trained as Digital Stewards to maintain the network will also be trained to check on vulnerable populations and organize local business owners. Overall, Jackson described PH’s RISE network as both a technology opportunity but also a social capital project.

Describing his organization’s programs bridging social, technology, and economic goals, Nigel Franklin, Workforce Development Specialist at the Fifth Avenue Committee (FAC), described how the Gowanus network will be positioned strategically for economic and workforce development. Franklin went on to describe how FAC wants to ensure, following the community’s experience during Sandy, that it can support the community in future disasters. FAC is currently looking at how to create a more integrated system among its community development and technology projects.

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For leaders from Hunt’s Point in the Bronx, the RISE network will also contribute to environmental justice efforts. Danny Peralta, Angela Tovar, and Yamil Lora from The Point CDC spoke about how their network will align with The Point’s existing resiliency goals and programming. As a neighborhood with adjacent industrial and residential zones, Hunts Point experiences multiple environmental and social challenges. While the neighborhood was spared the bulk of the damage from Sandy, the trajectory of the next storm may not be the same, and local residents feel the need to prepare themselves for future storms. The Point sees the network as an important tool for keeping the neighborhood connected in emergencies, as well as providing a learning platform and community engagement tool -- while the impetus for building the network is about disaster preparedness, The Point also sees it as a “tool of creativity.”

Representing Silicon Harlem, which will partner the New Harlem East Merchants’ Association (NHEMA) to build a network in East Harlem, Bruce Lincoln pointed toward the potential of a community wireless network to both activate the innovation economy and ensure everyone is connected to digital tools and resources, underscoring Silicon Harlem’s long-term dedication to drawing technology-based investment to the Harlem area.

The July and August convenings provided an opportunity for partners to develop shared principles and goals for their community technology work, as well as to hold discussions about technology design, equipment, network sustainability, and data management.

Resilient Communities is thrilled to be off and running with this project, and grateful to NYCEDC for its support. Resilient Communities Director Greta Byrum observed, “there are so many ways these partners can contribute to a broader vision of resiliency. We are thrilled to lead this ongoing exploration of how community technologies can approach diverse and unique community challenges.”

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Authors:

Greta Byrum is the director of the Resilient Communities program at New America. She reimagines the way we design, build, and manage communications systems to support local residents as leaders, organizers, and preparedness experts.

Raul Enriquez is the technology coordinator & training specialist at New America’s Resilient Communities program.

Andy Gunn was a program fellow with the Resilient Communities Project and Open Technology Institute at New America, where he partnered with communities to build and govern their own digital communications using the principles of Community Technology.

Katherine Ortiz is a program associate at New America’s Resilient Communities program. In this role, she helps communities become more resilient by training them to build their own mesh network infrastructure.

Houman Saberi is a program manager in the Resilient Communities program for RISE:NYC. In this role, he is helping to build resilient community wireless networks in Sandy-affected areas of the city in partnership with local businesses, civic organizations, and residents.