Harlem, home of the Apollo, Sylvia's soul food and decades of African-American cultural history, has long been considered the "Black Mecca," and now, one organization is attempting to help one of New York's most famous neighborhoods chart a new course for the 21st century.
Silicon Harlem, a for-profit social venture that got started in 2008, is pushing to make Harlem a hub of technology and innovation. A linchpin of its strategy is increased resident access to broadband via projects named Gigabit Harlem and Connect Uptown NYC, which works with broadband providers to bring state-of-the art Web infrastructure to the community.
As its name suggests, the organization's ultimate goal is to attract the kind of high-tech activity that boosts economic and social advancement in a neighborhood that has become increasingly multi-ethnic. Amid a citywide boom in housing and property prices, central Harlem has seen a larger influx of whites and Hispanics since the year 2000, according to data from New York University's Furman Center, which also showed neighborhood incomes and education levels on the rise.
Ultimately, Silicon Harlem aims to spur a tech and innovation hub that bolsters the neighborhood's reputation as both a cultural and business force.
"We can't take broadband for granted," said Silicon Harlem co-founder and CEO Clayton Banks recently at the organization's annual conference, adding that the most pressing issue regarding broadband is affordability. High-speed Web access is "the electrification of the 21st century," Banks added.
In keeping with that mission, collaborative workspace company WeWork just announced the opening of a new office in Harlem, and will partner with Silicon Harlem to give away office space to Harlem-based entrepreneurs. Companies like WeWork and Uncharted Play, a renewable energy start-up that helps consumers generate their own power, are two Silicon Harlem anchors that have invested $400,000 in the Harlem economy, Banks told CNBC.