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Civic Hall Launch: City Officials, Corporate Reps & Civic Technologists Offer Best Wishes

BY Jessica McKenzie | Wednesday, January 21 2015

NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer (Photo: Marina Villela)

A whopping 23 guests spoke at a packed Civic Hall launch event last night, beginning with New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer and closing with the CEO of Do Something, Nancy Lublin. Speakers included representatives from financial supporters Microsoft, Google and the Omidyar Network, as well as from Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo's administrations.

Many of the city officials, including Scott Stringer and Gale Brewer, emphasized improving and expanding technology education, growing the technology economy, and closing the digital divide.

The city's first Chief Technology Officer, Minerva Tantoco, offered congratulations on behalf of the mayor, adding “Mayor de Blasio set forth a goal to make New York City the most tech-friendly and innovative city in the world and a critical part of that success is collaboration with the vibrant civic tech community here in New York.”

“As Queen Geek,” Tantoco joked, “I mean, Chief Technology Officer, I look forward to working together with Civic Hall to harness the creativity, the incredible creativity of all New Yorkers, to help close the digital divide, to foster an innovation economy and to incubate the next generation of government technology.”

Council Member Corey Johnson took the time to list all the neighborhoods and many of the institutions, including Civic Hall, located within the district he represents, the 3rd Council District. You might be interested to know Civic Hall shares the district with Google and the High Line.

His speech took a personal turn while addressing the power of healthcare technologies. “I think I'm the only elected official in New York State that's openly HIV positive,” Johnson said, “and my cell phone on a daily basis reminds me when I have to take my medicine and when I have to go to the doctor.”

Many of the speakers told the audience what the meaning or purpose of Civic Hall was, but some defined it too narrowly as a space for technologists alone. It certainly is that, but also more than that.

Zephyr Teachout (Photo: Marina Villela)

It was Zephyr Teachout who nailed the importance of technology in the context of Civic Hall. “I do believe,” she told the audience, “that the way in which technology is architected affects power in very real ways, and the structure of the technologies of the future actually are the structure of the democracies of the future and how much meaningful power people have over their own lives.”

Teachout called co-founders Micah Sifry and Andrew Rasiej's belief that “technology and democracy can come together” and enrich the other “radical, beautiful, Walt-Whitmanesque.” She followed these remarks with a reading of a poem by Whitman, meant as a blessing upon this “housewarming”:

And our visions, the visions of poets, the most solid / announcements of any.

For we support all, / After the rest is done and gone, we remain, / There is no final reliance but upon us, / Democracy rests finally upon us, (I, my brethren, begin it,) / And our visions sweep through eternity.