New York start-ups shine light on new paths for world cities

Kuwait Times - - BUSINESS -

Snap­ping off a leaf of crisp baby let­tuce, en­tre­pre­neur An­drew Shearer can demon­strate how col­ored lights in a hy­dro­ponic cabi­net boost nu­tri­ents or al­ter the fla­vors and col­ors of plants that can be grown in a restau­rant kitchen. Straw­ber­ries, pep­pers and toma­toes are the next crops for his startup Farmshelf, which aims to cut food miles and waste by sell­ing the au­to­mated sys­tems to grow veg­eta­bles for com­mer­cial use, home kitchens and even mo­bile vans.

“Go­ing the next step, chang­ing the way the food sup­ply sys­tem can work for the highly per­ish­able items that of­ten end up in the land­fill,” said Shearer, 27, at the New Lab workspace at Brook­lyn Navy Yard (BNYDC).

Farmshelf is one of 95 com­pa­nies at New Lab in the for­mer ship­yard, home to firms such as Honey­bee Robotics, which makes arms for Mars rovers and mous­e­sized ro­bots, and Spa­cial, where one of its drone blimps hangs from the ceil­ing. Cities around the world are look­ing to BNYDC for in­spi­ra­tion as they strug­gle to re­place de­clin­ing in­dus­trial jobs with well-paid al­ter­na­tives while re­gen­er­at­ing ar­eas left va­cant and ne­glected by dy­ing in­dus­tries. Once a thriv­ing cen­ter on New York City’s East River em­ploy­ing 70,000 peo­ple, Brook­lyn’s wa­ter­front fell into dere­lic­tion as the ship­build­ing busi­ness shut down, said David Ehren­berg, BNYDC chief ex­ec­u­tive. Packs of feral dogs would chase prospec­tive ten­ants away as ef­forts at a re­vamp got un­der­way, he said. Fif­teen years later, the yard is home to 330 com­pa­nies and em­ploys 7,000 peo­ple in what has be­come a hip neigh­bor­hood dot­ted with hous­ing projects and chic apart­ment build­ings.

BNYDC part­ners with strug­gling lo­cal schools to get chil­dren in­ter­ested in fields such as robotics and in­tern­ships or jobs with one of the cut­ting-edge com­pa­nies, Ehren­berg said. “If things work out well, other cities can end up where we’ve ended up, he said. Along­side en­trepreneurs de­vel­op­ing nan­otech­nol­ogy or de­sign­ing ki­netic fur­ni­ture, other com­pa­nies at BNYDC are cre­at­ing hun­dreds of blue-col­lar jobs, which ur­ban ex­perts say is key to mak­ing com­mu­ni­ties eco­nom­i­cally re­silient.

At Steiner Stu­dios, where the hit HBO se­ries “Girls” was filmed, more than half the em­ploy­ees work in jobs such as on-set car­pen­ters or elec­tri­cians. Crye Pro­tec­tion em­ploys more than 200 peo­ple, many of whom sew spe­cial­ized cam­ou­flage gear and bend­able body ar­mor.

To be re­silient, “any city can’t be over re­liant on a sin­gle in­dus­try, whether that be Rot­ter­dam and the port, New Or­leans and petro­chem­i­cals, New York and fi­nance,” said Michael Berkowitz, pres­i­dent of the 100 Re­silient Cities pro­gram.

The Rock­e­feller Foun­da­tion­backed $164 mil­lion pro­gram aims to help ur­ban ar­eas pro­tect them­selves from stresses and shocks. “There’ no one magic bul­let,” Berkowitz said. For cities such as Glas­gow in Scot­land, once the world’s big­gest ship­builder, a chal­lenge is mak­ing growth in­clu­sive as it looks to fill the space left va­cant by in­dus­try and find new ways to use ex­ist­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing skills.

“We’re look­ing at the di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion of our econ­omy. We’re too de­pen­dant on bash­ing metal. But those same en­gi­neer­ing skills and links to univer­si­ties are ones we can use again,” said Dun­can Booker, chief re­silience of­fi­cer for Glas­gow.

“We’re not go­ing to get that mass em­ploy­ment again, but we can get lots of lots of clus­ters of smaller com­pa­nies and some of the larger man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pa­nies and util­i­ties to take on peo­ple,” he said. Repur­pos­ing a one mil­lion­square foot (305,000 square me­ters) of space for en­trepreneurs seek­ing so­lu­tions to flood­ing and cli­mate change is an op­tion be­ing con­sid­ered in New Or­leans as the city tries to shift away from de­pen­dence on the petro­chem­i­cal in­dus­try.

“For us, it’s also about tran­si­tion­ing our peo­ple from the oil econ­omy to the blue and green econ­omy of the fu­ture,” said Jeff He­bert, chief re­silience of­fi­cer and deputy mayor of New Or­leans, us­ing terms used to de­scribe sus­tain­able ocean and en­vi­ron­men­tal prac­tices. “The most im­por­tant part for us is to make sure we are train­ing the peo­ple of the city, not just kids ... but peo­ple who are cur­rently un­em­ployed or un­der­em­ployed so they can take ad­van­tage of in­no­va­tions in the new econ­omy,” he said. —Reuters

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