Will New York Make Boston The Old Tech City?

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Neil Swidey had a wonderful article (N.Y. vs. Boston: The endgame) in the Boston Globe Magazine on the fabled Boston-NY (or is that NY-Boston) rivalry delving into the ever-timely question: “Where did all this nonsense begin?”

What most intrigued me was his reference to New York’s plan to take “Roosevelt Island and a decrepit hospital that offers priceless views of the United Nations and the Chrysler Building” and turn it into “a new tech-focused graduate school that, in many ways, will be built in the image of MIT.”

Swidey’s set-up is pitch-perfect in noting the pride Greater Boston takes “in our identity as College Town, USA, the egghead capital of the nation, anchored by Harvard and MIT and fortified with a host of other competitive universities that would dominate their regions if they were located anywhere but here.” And the mayoral aide that tells Swidey that “New York has more college students than Boston has people” is sure to drive local university professors and development directors to take up Red Sox banners, even in this disastrous year.

Already a study is suggesting that New York has seen good growth in venture capital deals supporting new tech startups (see New Tech City) whereas other parts of the country, including New England have seen declines in recent years.


Enter New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plan, as cited by Swidey, to create New York’s version of MIT. Just what is New York planning and can they get it done?

The goal is clear: David Skorton, the president of Cornell, one of the partners to win the city’s competition for proposals noted that “New York City is positioned to become the new technology capital of the world.”

As the Times’ Richard Perez-Pena noted:

That has long been a goal for Mr. Bloomberg, who noted that the city had only recently surpassed much-smaller Boston in attracting venture capital for high-tech start-ups, and that such businesses here face a chronic shortage of engineers.

With their $2 billion project, which covers 10 acres of Roosevelt Island, Cornell and its partner, the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, Israel,

promise to start offering classes next September in temporary space, and to complete 300,000 square feet of space on Roosevelt Island by 2017 and more than 2 million square feet by 2037. Plans call for about 280 faculty members and 2,500 students in master’s and doctoral programs, a larger contingent than the universities had proposed a few months ago.

The schools have also committed to training at least 200 teachers each year in science education.

The universities plan to organize the campus around three overlapping, shifting “hubs”: technologies for “connective media,” applicable to everything from finance to social media; health care industries; and sustainable development, chosen in part to mesh with the city’s existing strengths.

The Cornell-Technion plan seeks to create a “linkage” between business start-ups and a “major applied-sciences institution” in New York, similar to what we’ve seen sprout up around Cambridge.

That plan includes

a $150 million venture capital fund for start-up companies that agree to remain in New York for three years, as well as math and science education support for 10,000 city children.

With deep pockets and already a lead gift of $350 million from a Cornell-associated philanthropist, New York’s project of creating a new institute of technology is going to move fast. One more challenge for the Greater Boston area.

Crossposted at Boston.com’s Rock the Schoolhouse blog. Follow me on twitter at @jimstergios, or visit Pioneer’s website.