Monday, April 30, 2012

New York throws a pitch in the Innovation Game

A couple of quick web searches show that New York City is looking to capture some of the magic of Cambridge, MA, where universities, commercialization, start-ups, smart people and venture capital all combine in a volatile fuel that sparks the future.

Two New York institutions of higher learning, Cornell and NYU, are eager to join the party, and the city of New York also sees glitter, if not gold, and has plunged knee-deep in the negotiations.  New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, not a man of shallow pockets, is not being shy with the public purse this time either.

Of course, in the five boroughs, the most valuable commodity is not money but land.  In December of last year, Bloomberg announced that 11 acres on Roosevelt Island, which sits across the 59th Street Bridge from Manhattan's East Side, will be dedicated to a new engineering campus under the aegis of Cornell University in partnership with the Haifa-based Technion University.  The city of New York is putting up $100 million to make this happen, and at the time of the announcement, Cornell stated that a $350 million anonymous donation will help facilitate the completion of this project.

Will Bloomberg and Cornell be feelin' groovy?

The proposed campus of 2,500 students will see the first arrivals in 2017, and the 1.3 million square feet of construction completed by 2027.  Just for scale comparisons, this square footage is roughly equivalent to the MIT project along Main Street in Kendall Square that they have put before the Cambridge City Council numerous times over the last three years.

Meanwhile, NYU doesn't want to be outdone in the city it truly calls its home, and announced earlier this month that they were about to begin work on their Center for Urban Science and Progress (CUSP).  Here's what they say about it in their press release:

For the first time in history, more than half of the world’s population lives in urban areas; in just a few more decades, the world's population will exceed 9 billion, 70 percent of whom will live in cities. Enabling those cities to deliver services effectively, efficiently, and sustainably while keeping their citizens safe, healthy, prosperous, and well-informed will be among the most important undertakings in this century. 
CUSP will tackle these urban challenges and set the research agenda on the science of cities, educating the next generation of engineers in how to apply that research, bringing innovative ideas to a world market, and creating a new, fast-growing, and indispensible industry—along with the many jobs that go with it.

As for their location, this is what they say:
We have identified Downtown Brooklyn as the preferred location for CUSP. It is a vibrant, creative, entrepreneurial neighborhood whose energy will be leveraged by the tech cluster we expect to spark. Growth in this field will be an especially good fit for MetroTech Center, helping it to more fully realize the City’s vision for this campus as a hotbed of technology firms and research.
From Cambridge's perspective, there are two interesting aspects to this. One is the regional component.  New York skews the graph whenever it appears, it's the outlier always.  And with good reason.

But the proponents of Cambridge's magic say that magic is actually the right word.  More than planning, and more than luck, there is a third element where random collisions produce positive energies that fuel this world.  The collisions are random, but some good amount of planning and design can go into fostering the likelihood of them occurring.  Cambridge seems to have it.  Can New York create it?

The other interesting component of this -- particularly for those who follow urban politics -- is the mayor's role in all of this and how his involvement is shaping the outcome.  No one should miss the profound impact that the resources of the city of New York can bring to bear when focused on an issue.

Resources or not, New York is its own thing, to be sure.  But special doesn't mean successful.  Just ask Boston.