The Brooklyn-based organization The Grid is a collaboration between The New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) and CIV:LAB, a global nonprofit dedicated to connecting urban innovation ecosystems around the world. Last month they had a launch party and they aim to become “a unique network for New York City’s urban tech community to share ideas, build new partnerships, and offer key resources needed for sector growth.” The Grid is comprised of a network of various professionals across businesses, academia, non-profits and the public sector. As these upstanding citizens connected over drinks and discussed the future technology requirements of New York, a sense of urgency and altruism was present in the room.
Benevolent intentions aside, the one topic that stopped conversation was how to address technophia. As the public turns against the four horseman (Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook), mostly due to their incredible size and privacy ignorance, “tech” is now a fraught term. New York City has become ground zero for the battle against tech as the drama of Amazon’s second headquarters being awarded and then rescinded due to local pressures, unfolded in front of the world’s eyes. At the launch party the word “tech” was thrown around the room frequently, but deep expertise was lacking with the majority of individuals unable to build tech solutions. This means moving from ideas into actions will be difficult. My organization, Cherre, has had difficulty finding strong engineers, and even worse, New York struggles to get young professionals interested in tech careers. With ample funding, interest and passion, the conversation still seemed to stop short at discussing how to address the lack of capable individuals, or how to develop more capable hands-on-keyboards.
The event began with speakers from the New York City Economic Development Commission (NYCEDC), CIV:LAB, a non-profit, and UrbanTechNYC, a community organization. Each discussed the problems they were taking on, as well as their goals. The crowd was jovial, with fresh faces eager to hear how tech professionals spent their time and what drove their passion. I talked to a professor that discussed the tech interests of his students at SUNY Maritime and a few small business owners who frequently mentioned business was good.
The Grid is the start to building a culture of finding solutions to several problems that New York City faces: rising tides will drown our subways, urban development needs to preserve communities, income inequality could be fought with high paying tech jobs, and our transportation infrastructure needs an inexpensive upgrade to name a few. Putting passionate individuals around each other with strong communication networks to build innovation is an important first step that The Grid hopes to assist. The next few events with the Grid aim to set their objectives, and I look forward to seeing what a group of well-intentioned (and funded) individuals plan to do.
New York is building its tech scene rapidly, but this growth will mean less if it cannot help New Yorkers. Understanding how future technology development will impact taxpayers and improve lives helps give meaning to engineers that build solutions and clarifies how the city is focusing its efforts. Luckily, organizations like the Grid are a conduit to this insight and help engineers like myself understand the value of their work.