Hacking the Brownfields

| MSNY Staff

I recently gave a talk atTEDxMarketStreet in San Francisco. It was an exciting opportunity to share the stage with and hear from Tim O’Reilly and others I respect. The theme of the event was civic innovation, and I chose to talk about brownfields. In city planning, a “brownfield” refers to a site that is contaminated but otherwise would have potential. Growing up in 1980s Pittsburgh, in a family of city planners, I had a front row seat to the revitalization of an American city. One of the crowning achievements of that effort was the transformation of a 42-acre contaminated industrial site known as Herr’s Island, which – despite many hurdles and countless naysayers – was successfully converted into a thriving mixed-use community.

Years later, while working in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, it became clear to me that the term “brownfield” could easily apply more broadly. The same principles I had witnessed as a child are reflected in the challenges we face as a government, as a community, and as a society – from Healthcare.gov to post-Hurricane Sandy New York and New Jersey. Brownfields are all around us – in the streets of Staten Island, in the hallways of a hospital in Newark, and in classrooms in the Bronx. But brownfields won’t fix themselves and they won’t be fixed by the same approaches that allowed deterioration in the first place. The thing about these brownfields is that they affect all of us. And transforming each into something beautiful and meaningful requires working together and offering diverse perspectives to produce innovative solutions. That’s what Microsoft has been doing through STEM education initiatives from TEALS to Code.org to ConnectED. It’s what the Technology & Civic Innovation team will be adding to in the near future. It’s the work that I’m excited to do every day.

So as I spoke to the audience at TEDxMarketStreet, my suggestion was simple: let’s hack the brownfields. Because while success requires equal parts vision and grit, more than anything else, it requires us.

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MSNY Staff