The Brooklyn Tech Triangle has emerged as the borough’s center of innovation for the tech and creative economies. Since the launch of the 2013 Strategic Plan, significant growth has occurred in employment, the number of firms, and institutional resources available to workers, students, educators, and employers. However, to ensure that the Brooklyn Tech Triangle remains a world-class center for innovation and a tremendous resource for the City, four key recommendations should be considered:
Despite a handful of new commercial projects in the pipeline, the demand for office space continues to outweigh supply. With historically low vacancy rates throughout the Tech Triangle, additional space is desperately needed. One opportunity available to the City is through zoning. Specifically, the City should consider revisiting land use policy within the Brooklyn Tech Triangle to incentivize the creation of new commercial office space. The Special Downtown Brooklyn District could be expanded to include areas closer to DUMBO and the Brooklyn Navy Yard and in the process increase density for those projects that include commercial office space. This incentive would allow for the growth of much-needed commercial office space while providing opportunities for additional affordable housing.
Government owns or leases over 7 million square feet of space in Downtown Brooklyn. Much of that space is dedicated to courts, universities, or customer service centers that need to be near the rich public transit options in the area. But we have identified about 1 million square feet of underutilized government-owned space that could be repurposed for new infrastructure like schools to support the area’s explosive growth and job-producing office space and ground floor retail. In 2014, the City announced plans to study sites like 65 Court Street to determine what space can be consolidated or repurposed for commercial construction and affordable office space for job creating-firms in Brooklyn. The time to move forward on these plans has arrived.
Efficient working space is not the only key component to nurturing the growth of an innovation hub. Quality parks, plazas, and related open spaces provide gathering points for the sharing of ideas, create pedestrian friendly connections between neighborhoods, and serve as a catalyst for attracting additional private sector investment into the area. The Brooklyn Strand initiative, an effort to reimagine and better link more than 40 acres of disconnected public parks and plazas that run from Brooklyn Borough Hall to Fulton Landing and parts of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, is an example of a public space investment opportunity that the City should support. The Brooklyn Strand, which weaves directly through the heart of the Brooklyn Tech Triangle, is a significant public infrastructure project that requires capital investment from the City, support from the private sector, and input from the community to be a success. Fortunately, over the past 18 months the planning process for the Brooklyn Strand has involved over 50 stakeholder groups including residents, business leaders, elected officials, community groups, and City agencies who have been working together to develop a series of recommendations for the Strand area. However, major public space infrastructure projects like the Strand rely on financial and resource commitments from government to move beyond the planning stages. The City has before it now a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create a transformational open space and development plan that will serve New Yorkers for decades to come.
Connectivity will become an even more important requirement for the success of the Brooklyn Tech Triangle moving forward. With the increasing workforce, additional forms of transportation are necessary to connect the growing areas within the Brooklyn Tech Triangle to other parts of the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront. As cited in the 2013 Brooklyn Tech Triangle Strategic Plan, the borough of Brooklyn once had a web of trolleys that included lines going over the Brooklyn Bridge, out to Coney Island, and connecting along the Brooklyn working waterfront from Sunset Park to Greenpoint and beyond to Long Island City. Many cities across the world have explored new surface transportation options, including successful streetcar systems in Seattle, Jerusalem, and Madrid. With the increasing connectedness between Brooklyn and Queens tech neighborhoods, and the rising demand for creative space in old waterfront development, a new surface transit route could create a needed link between communities along this waterfront. Such a route would be truly multi-modal in that it would complement existing subway lines as there is no rail service that provides a similar connection. It would augment the City’s recent laudable investment in ferry service and would be supported by the expansion of other City initiatives like Citi Bike. Most importantly, it would link emerging innovation economy job centers in places like Sunset Park, the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and Long Island City in a way that would be transformative, substantially reducing travel times between these locations and potentially creating tens of thousands of new jobs that would be accessible to transit-starved communities like Red Hook in Brooklyn and Hallets Point in Queens. It’s a big idea that merits further study and one that could fuel the next generation of growth in the Brooklyn Tech Triangle.
Realizing the above opportunities would not just privilege the innovation companies located in the Brooklyn Tech Triangle, but provide far-reaching benefits to all who live, work, and visit the neighborhood. Such an undertaking will require special attention from our partners in government and the private sector, and we look forward to our continued work together to ensure innovation has a home in Brooklyn.
While we are focused on our work here, it is our humble hope that some of the concepts and models we advance in the Tech Triangle could one day enjoy broad applications in areas along the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront and even the South Bronx that are facing similar challenges and opportunities. Doing so will help to support job and tax base growth, making our City as a whole stronger and more competitive in the global economic environment.