As he rides out his third term, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been driven by an almost singular obsession: Turning the city into the nation’s tech capital. He has courted titans of the industry and has just as aggressively gone after the biggest names in education. In December, Cornell University won the city’s $100 million prize to build a campus on Roosevelt Island.
On Monday, the next shoe dropped. The mayor officially unveiled the Center for Urban Science and Progress (CUSP), a consortium of schools and industries, led by New York University, that will open its doors as early as 2017 in downtown Brooklyn.
CUSP is pitching itself as an incubator solely for city solutions. “It’s devoted to one specific area: urban science,” said Philip Lentz, public affairs director at NYU. “And we have the biggest city in the country working with us.”
The consortium’s corporate members — IBM, Cisco, Consolidated Edison, Siemens and Xerox — were chosen for their involvement with smart city technology. Once CUSP opens, city agencies will bring problems directly to the research labs, Lentz explained.
Plans for the site, currently occupied by the Metropolitan Transit Authority, have been percolating for years. In recent months, downtown Brooklyn business leaders and politicians stepped up their calls to rejuvenate the building.
“The Brooklyn Tech Triangle is quickly becoming the envy of cities from here to Silicon Valley,” local Councilmember Stephen Levin touted.
As part of its agreement, the city emphasized that all the research at CUSP be “commercially applicable,” a city spokeswoman told me. During Monday’s conference, Bloomberg drove this point home: Graduates from the campus are expected to generate 200 spinoff companies.
The announcement arrived the same day as a sweeping New Yorker report on the proximity of Stanford University to Silicon Valley. At CUSP, the walls between academia and the technology world may be similarly thin.
The consortium’s business partners volunteered their funds but will not define the research at CUSP, Lentz insisted. Urban fixes that emerge in the lab, and could translate to other cities, are enough to motivate their investment.
“They get to work with some of their biggest customers,” Lentz said of the corporate partners. “Which are cities.”
Mark Bergen is a journalist formerly from Chicago and now based in Bangalore, India. He writes the Econometro blog for Forbes.com and has covered politics and policy for GOOD, The Atlantic Cities, Tablet Magazine, Religion Dispatches and the Chicago Reader.