The Future Of Cities, The Power Of Change

I've been thinking a lot about how COVID-19 exposed the broken parts of cities, fundamental inequities, and challenges that don't make the news. And while it's easy to want things to go back to normal for a large number of New Yorkers -- normal was never good enough.

So when my phone rang, and it was a researcher from the Center for an Urban Future (CUF) asking me for ideas about how to shape the future, I took the question seriously.

CUF is a 20-year-old, independent, nonpartisan policy organization that uses research to expose often-overlooked issues, working to get elected officials to embrace practical solutions that strengthen New York. It's a great model, crowdsourcing innovation at a time when we need it most.

As the executive director of the NYC Media Lab, I've been asking our membership and university partners to consider a simple question: How will New York's powerful start-up and innovation economy rebound in the post-COVID environment?



With the CUF question now on the table, I set out to offer an actionable solution.

My proposal: Launch a Startup Culture Card to retain and grow start-ups and tech talent

New York has a unique advantage to attract and retain start-ups and tech talent. The vibrancy of New York's arts and culture community creates an energy that fuels entrepreneurs and company creators. The scene is crucial to retaining the young tech talent creating start-ups and driving the city's economic growth.

To maintain New York's position as the destination to build and grow start-ups at a time when companies and teams are considering other options, the city should work with the private sector to build a program that gives people building a company in New York a unique incentive: an underwritten arts and culture credit card that allows them to experience art, music, theater, dance, culture, and nightlife essentially for free.

The Startup Culture Card would enable founders and their teams to tap into the city's glorious mosaic while supporting organizations and artists across the city's cultural ecosystem that may not be reached by other funding. 

The creative output of the next generation of tech talent is going to be fueled by inputs, and New York's diversity and spirit are unrivaled when it comes to fueling start-up energy and creative spark. The Startup Culture Card would spur that engagement and not only get people to come, but also to stay.

Now the report is out: “RE:NEW YORK CITY 250 Ideas from New Yorkers to Revive NYC's Economy, Spark Good Jobs, and Build a More Equitable City.”

I was one of 250 ideas in the report, providing what CUF hopes is a blueprint for cultivating a robust and inclusive economic recovery. The report included ideas from what CUF described as "small business owners, company CEOs, labor leaders, community advocates, nonprofit practitioners, artists, college presidents, and former government officials.” The ideas "ran the gamut from tapping the city's high school and college students to help small businesses innovate, to reimagining public streets and parks for art and commerce, to launching hubs for freelance workers and cooperative businesses in every borough, to investing in the public health infrastructure needed to prepare for the next crisis."

If you read them, you'll be surprised at the scope of the effort. Some ideas are impossible, others are basic, and some you may find silly. Maybe mine was one of those. But that's the point: To capture the thing that makes New York great, its diversity of ideas.

So, read the report, and you may find some ideas you want to get behind. If you think that start-ups need access to the arts, and the arts community needs to support of audiences, then maybe my idea of the Startup Culture Card is right for you. If so, ping me, and let's figure out how to get it done.

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