Seemingly to save face, Stanford pulled out of NYC's Applied Sciences initiative to build a world-class engineering school last week. At the same time, Cornell got an anonymous $350 million donation to move forward with it's proposal--and rumor has it that the Mayor will announce Cornell's victory as soon as today.
I have no doubt that any new school dedicated to engineering will be a good thing in New York City--one that I will fully support. However, here's a question that I think even casual observers of the NYC innovation community would all answer unanimously:
If you were to place a school in a strategic location to help drive innovation in NYC over the next 50 years, where would you put it? Roosevelt Island or Downtown Brooklyn?
Right... but for some reason, the one interesting proposal in Brooklyn--submitted by the existing most active participant in the local innovation community, NYU, doesn't seem to be getting much consideration.
NYU-Poly made a pitch to transform the former MTA headquarters into a "'Center for Urban Science and Progress,' where engineers can work to solve urban, global problems like traffic, pollution, and energy conservation." The building at 370 Jay Street is currently an underused eyesore. Redeveloping existing infrastructure that already sits on top of multiple transit lines is smart. Even smarter is that the NYU plan seems doable at a fraction of the cost of other proposals to redevelop the southern end of a relatively isolated Roosevelt Island into a tech campus.
Downtown Brooklyn is in close proximity to Dumbo, a burgeoning tech community, and downtown Manhattan's own innovation centers. Make no mistake, Brooklyn is absolutely the future of innovation in NYC. It's cheaper and it's attracting the young, creative class that drives our most innovative companies.
I think, one day, you'll see more people start their entrepreneurial endeavors in Brooklyn, and as companies mature, they'll move into the city. Places like Dumbo and Williamsburgh will become the primordial soup of designers, developers, hackathons and co-working communities in reclaimed spaces that will produce the next great companies coming out of NYC. It's happening now, and by putting in real infrastructure to support it, like an engineering school, you're only adding to the momentum.
Putting a campus a 40 minute subway ride from Dumbo seems like a stretch to me, but I'm just a guy that has a 40 minute subway ride into the city that causes people to say, "Oh, you live far out..." so what do I know?
There's something so brilliant about reclaiming the headquarters of one of the most bureacratic, least innovative entities we know--the MTA--to build a campus focused on building the city of the future. Let's be clear--this isn't about making more web developers. The curriculums of our existing schools should be retooled easily enough to do that. I'm talking about serious efficiency improvements in how we live within our natural environment, move around, and what materials we use. The Jay Street building would also be just steps from Brooklyn Bridge Park, one of the most ambitious urban redevelopment projects we have--where they took six industrial piers and turned them into parkland.
Brooklyn is truly an opportunity for innovation in our community and we should be looking for more ways to support it. Whether or not Cornell wins the city's bid, I hope NYU goes through with it's plans to further develop its footprint in Brooklyn. It's not lost on me that this plan is scrappier and more creative--exactly what Brooklyn is all about.