Queens: NYC’s First Smart Borough - Identity Review - Identity Review | Global Tech Think Tank

Boasting over 2.2 million inhabitants and deemed the most ethnically diverse urban area in the world, Queens is an underrated but impressive borough. The latest add to their repertoire? “Smart borough” status, an effort led by Queens President Donovan Richards Jr., the Queens Chamber of Commerce, and the Queens Tech Council.

Behind the “Smart” Idea

New York City’s efforts to transform “smartly” have historically centered on Manhattan, where most of the city’s tech ecosystem lies. This applies to both public and private “smart” initiatives—from Citibike’s absence in other boroughs, to the general lack of VC activity elsewhere but Manhattan.

Seeing the city’s lack of a comprehensive “smart” plan, Queens leaders decided to take matters into their own hands and formed a team: the Queens Tech Council.

“[It] started back in February 2021,” says Tom Grech, President and CEO of the Queens Chamber of Commerce. “The Tech Council is a collection of tech industry, non-profit, and civic professionals organized by the Queens Chamber and united around the goal of creating a self-sustaining and equitable tech ecosystem in Queens.”

While focusing on increasing mobility with alternative, sustainable transportation methods and increasing resident connectivity with Queens-specific social networks, the council’s efforts extend into all realms of tech—even in education and politics.

“We have multiple working groups tackling issues like access to tech education, promoting investment in Queens, and making tech a priority for our elected officials,” he says. “We are also working to raise the profile of the tech companies that currently call Queens home through social media and press initiatives.”

With Challenge Comes Perspective

As pioneers of the term “smart borough,” their initiative is not without road bumps. But with each came a learning opportunity.

The Tech Council formed with the backdrop of a pandemic, for instance, which shook the ground beneath small businesses in the borough.

“The pandemic showed us just how important technology is to our daily lives and we’re committed to seizing the moment. The tech sector isn’t going away any time soon, and so Queens is looking to be at the forefront of technological innovation and entrepreneurship for years to come,” says Grech.

And aside from forming and keeping to a comprehensive strategy to ensure the initiative’s smooth roll-out, which experts say is key to successful “smart” transformations, their biggest obstacle is making themselves known.

“[The] challenge is simply getting the word out about what we’re trying to accomplish with the Queens Tech Council,” Grech says. The solution, however, is within reach.

“Thankfully, we have already made significant progress, with buy-in from partners like Amazon, Facebook, Google, WeWork and Cornell Tech—in addition to small businesses from all across our borough.”

The Queens Outlook

Maintaining Queens’ degree of eclecticness is central to the tech council’s “smart” plans. It wants to work with and enhance the intimate community structures that make Queens what it is—not dissolve them with integrated technology.

“Queens has its own unique identity and strengths […] The Queens Tech Council wants to build upon these strengths, not fundamentally change what Queens is.”

This means taking a people-oriented approach to “smart” innovation, not a tech one.

“Becoming a smart borough means doing all we can to encourage innovation in tech right here in New York City,” says Grech. “It means ensuring that low-income neighborhoods have the tools they need to access the internet, and the potential for growth and development it represents. It also means providing all members of our communities with the skills and education they need to fully capitalize on their potential.”

Still, the team has lofty goals for its incoming tech sector.

“We must create a welcoming environment that inspires individuals and companies to call Queens home. Our goal is to make our borough the next big start-up hub by investing in creating a strong entrepreneurial community and promoting Queens’ diverse talent pool and prime location as key draws for established tech companies looking to put down roots in the area.”


Olivia Baker is a tech editor and journalist at Identity Review, where she writes on tech policy and national digital identity technologies.

Contact Olivia Baker at olivia@identityreview.com.

Do you have information to share with Identity Review? Email us at press@identityreview.com.

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