Neighborhoods have a way of changing. When I first lived in New York for school, my neighborhood enjoyed the second highest homicide rate of all NYPD precincts; anything above West 98th Street was considered sketchy, at least until you entered the Columbia University campus at 116th Street; and, Harlem had earned a reputation for some rough edges.
But, it had not always been that way. Harlem’s historic buildings offer silent testimony to how people and communities move around within their cities; numerous churches exhibit stonework and carvings that evidence their past use as synagogues (and, several of those buildings were originally churches in their first iterations). As the neighborhood gentrifies, it is not without the stress that often accompanies such evolutions. And, yet, the neighborhood is evolving, as are my old college stomping grounds. Silicon Harlem is a not-for-profit venture aimed at fostering tech development, and my old neighborhood now sports a Starbucks (regrettably, the old-time butcher with the reliable $5 rotisserie chicken is gone).
So, Harlem was a fine choice for the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) to convene last week. In fact, it was a fitting sequel to the preceding day, when ICF met on the Staten Island grounds of what was during WWII the largest U.S. Army hospital, then a state hospital that closed in the 1980s after rampant abuse was disclosed, and is now a City University campus. Like the Harlem avenue at which we gathered, it features fixtures of its past intertwined with its developing future. Each location evidences the constant currents of change, and how successful repurpose that is yet tied to its roots can be found. These currents were on display as early morning traffic moved past our breakfast window last week.
A note on the day at ICF: I participated in a panel discussion that focused on rural development in the digital age. The conversation approached everything from telemedicine and distance education to the disruption of robotics and AI in core industries. I was struck most by the common themes that emerged from the panelists, which included industry types (me), academics, and a rural studies/technology expert from Great Britain. If anything, our collective conversations revealed that there is little residual debate about the usefulness of broadband-enabled applications in rural areas, or the need to deploy it. The overriding questions are now about how to do it, and how to do it effectively.