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LinkNYC and Aunt Bertha bring social service access to the sidewalks of New York

The Smart Cities Readiness Guide suggests LinkNYC will usher in a new generation of technology and set the standard for connectivity in urban environments globally. It's nice to see that as the network evolves, it continues to add value for New York City residents who need a helping hand. This initiative is worth keeping an eye on; it could be replicated in cities everywhere. – Philip Bane


Transforming yesteryear's sidewalk pay phones into high-tech kiosks seemed like a novel idea when New York City awarded a contract in 2014 to CityBridge, a consortium that includes Qualcomm and other leading experts in technology, advertising and user experience.

Now in its second year, New York Press reports at the end of February there were more than 630 kiosks active in the city out of the 7,500 planned.

One goal of the LinkNYC project is to reduce the digital divide by making free Wi-Fi, calling, phone charging and city services more accessible to more New Yorkers. At the same time, advertising on screens generate revenue for the city.

Now enter Aunt Bertha, an Austin-based social service search and referral software platform. LinkNYC has added Aunt Bertha's massive database of food banks, emergency shelters, childcare services and the like to its offerings. That way, as CityLab explains, anyone can do a simple search on one of the kiosk tablets and find services in their zip code.

As its website explains, "Aunt Bertha makes it easy for people facing social needs -- and those who help others -- to find and make referrals to appropriate programs and services for food, shelter, health care, work, financial assistance and more."

An example: Type NYC zip code 10128 into the Aunt Bertha search box and it immediately returns 2,669 programs -- divided into neatly organized categories -- that serve people in that zip code, everything from free meals, to help paying for housing, to mental health care, legal aid, etc.

“People in need are almost always grappling with interrelated problems… so easily accessible powerful technology tools that provide useful options in one place are key,” Steve Lee, a managing director at Robin Hood, a New York City anti-poverty agency, said in a statement in the CityLab article.

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This article is from the Council's Compassionate Cities initiative which highlights how city leaders and other stakeholders can leverage smart technologies to end suffering in their communities and give all citizens a route out of poverty. Click the Compassionate Cities box on our registration page to receive our weekly newsletter.

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