Cities like San Francisco and New York have emerged as ‘superstar cities’. How? Because of their great innovation economies: startups bloom and jobs of the future multiply. The idea has emerged that the innovation economy can save our cities. Yet these common tropes hide a stunning reality: local lives and fortunes are tied to global capital. In her new book The Innovation Complex, professor Sharon Zukin shows the way these forces shape the new urban economy in New York. In this talk we focus on the urban sociospatial environment. What do the arrival of Amazon in New York City and in the Netherlands have in common? What happens if big-tech enters a city? And what can (potential) Dutch tech-cities like Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam and Eindhoven learn from Zukin’s insights?

Sharon Zukin is Urban sociologist at Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Her work is mostly compared to the sixties urbanist Jane Jacobs. Both share a describing view on the relation between the cities buildings and the people using, living and passing those buildings. However, their shared interest do not provide a shared view on the best way to deal with these issues. As Zukin points out in an interview “What Jacobs valued—small blocks, cobblestone streets, mixed uses, local character—have become the gentrifiers’ ideal. This is not the struggling city of working-class and ethnic groups, but an idealized image that plays to middle-class tastes.”

In 1989 she wrote her interesting work Loft living on the gentrification of the New York City neighbourhood SoHo. After that she Culture of Cities and Landcapes of Power. And previous to her newest book, she wrote The Naked City in which she focussed on how the growing popularity of the “authentic” urban life drove out the “authentic” inhabitants of those spaces.

In The Innovation Complex (2020) Zukin explores the relation between the innovation economy and the people in the cities. She examines the people and plans that have literally rooted digital technology in the city. That in turn has shaped a workforce, molded a mindset, and generated an archipelago of tech spaces, which in combination have produced a now-hegemonic “innovation” culture and geography. She begins with the subculture of hackathons and meetups, introduces startup founders and venture capitalists, and explores the transformation of the Brooklyn waterfront from industrial wasteland to “innovation coastline.” She shows how, far beyond Silicon Valley, cities like New York are shaped by an influential “triple helix” of business, government, and university leaders – an alliance that joins C. Wright Mills’s “power elite,” real estate developers, and ambitious avatars of “academic capitalism.” As a result, cities around the world are caught between the demands of the tech economy and communities’ desires for growth–a massive and often–insurmountable challenge for those who hope to reap the rewards of innovation’s success.

With code DCFA2122 you get a 10% discount at Atheneum Bookstore on The Innovation Complex. Use this order link to be referred to the shop. Are you interested in what you can read to become a better designer, architect, urban planner, urbanist, or neighbour living and working in a super-divers city? Every month, Pakhuis de Zwijger’s Designing Cities For All (DCFA) team recommends books for all city designers that want to empower themselves (and others), let these reads guide your practice of transforming cities for the better.