CityViews: New York Can’t Afford to Become Silicon Valley East

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Ed Reed for the Office of Mayor Bill de Blasio

Mayor Bill de Blasio appears on his first Google Hangout on Friday, April 11, 2014.

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Read a response to this op-ed by the head of New York City’s Economic Development Corporation.
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Google buses may soon be seen on the streets of the Big Apple. That’s not a good thing for most New Yorkers.

Let me explain. Recently, Google purchased the Chelsea Market for an eye-popping $2 billion, growing their already large footprint in my neighborhood. Google is also reportedly planning to expand to Pier 57 on the Chelsea waterfront in Manhattan.

Their track record as an employer should concern New York City residents and elected officials. Google’s expansion is part of a much larger, disturbing trend of tech companies dominating our economy. They create few economic opportunities for people like me, and often end up leaving communities like mine worse off.

I grew up in Chelsea’s NYCHA apartments, a few blocks from Google’s New York headquarters – a large building they bought on formerly public land. I don’t know anyone in my public housing complex that got a job at Google once they open their shiny offices here in Chelsea in 2011.

As Google seeks a bigger role in our economy, I am worried about the New York businesses at Chelsea Market. I spoke to florists and the food vendors at Chelsea Market, and they are regular New Yorkers. Now, they risk being displaced as Google lures new tech workers to Chelsea. Small businesses, like long-term tenants, are being pushed out. New York is quickly becoming Silicon Valley East.

Last October, City Hall turned the Empire State Building Amazon orange in their bid to lure Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest person, to build his second corporate headquarters here. Facebook already has a Greenwich Village headquarters, designed by star architect Frank Gehry.

Silicon Valley is the most expensive place to live in the country, with rents in its beating heart, San Francisco, now surpassing those in New York City. What has happened in San Francisco in recent years offers us a cautionary tale, not a model to follow. Its tech-focused economic development has harmed long-time residents, and even newcomers, instead of helping them. Tech companies drive up rents and make the economy more dependent on an industry fueled by start-ups and crash-and-burn venture capitalists. They thrive on volatility, not stability. They gentrify not only neighborhoods, but also jobs, making fewer opportunities and careers available to regular working people, especially in low-income communities of color.

Tech companies like Google have no real track record of creating good jobs and careers for young black and brown New Yorkers struggling to escape poverty. When tech companies recruit for their entry-level mid-level jobs, they often recruit from expensive, private universities – elite institutions where few young people like the ones growing up in my NYCHA building can be found. Rather than create long-term opportunities for our young people, tech companies often lure transient millennials to live in new luxury buildings and make our city more and more unaffordable.

Gentrification is taking our homes, and soon it will take more of our jobs, and lead to more lost opportunities, if the tech industry calls all the shots and takes over our economy. If Mayor de Blasio turns New York City into another San Francisco, this situation will only get worse. In Union Square, his administration is already proposing to rezone an area to become the “front-door for tech in NYC.”

Allow me to insert my eye roll at the mayor right here. If he really wants to create the fairest big city in America, he should be investing in long-time residents and communities here now, not just transients of the future lured by tech companies. That investment requires the creation of a better, stable pathway from our public schools to CUNY to middle class jobs. It means building deeply affordable housing and job training programs that give communities of color a foot in the door, especially in neighborhoods with large concentrations of public housing and low-income residents who struggle with underemployment.

If New York City turns into Googletown, only wealthy tech executives and their families will be able to live here. We can and must do better.

Elzora Cleveland is a member of New York Communities for Change and an education activist. She grew up in Chelsea and has lived in the neighborhood nearly all of her life. Until recently, she was a member of the Panel for Education Policy but was forced to resign after breaking with the mayor.

One thought on “CityViews: New York Can’t Afford to Become Silicon Valley East

  1. Pingback: After an abrupt resignation, de Blasio appoints professor to New York City's education oversight panel

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