How We Define Urban Tech
New York City is home to many thousands of technology enterprises. We applied a rigorous set of filters to identify organizations that are directly involved in the development and diffusion of urban tech.
Does it address a core urban need? This includes efforts to improve public health; improve the resilience of critical systems; improve the vitality of urban neighborhoods; improve the fairness of city governance; as well as new targeted solutions for producing food, delivering water, managing waste, moving people and goods, delivering human services.
Does it operate at urban scale? Urban tech serves or taps an area larger than a neighborhood, but more focused than everywhere or nowhere.
Does it bridge the gap between the digital and the physical worlds? Urban tech deploys computational processes (sensing, analysis, predictive modeling, actuation, networking) that take place in both physical urban spaces and in remote locations.
Does it connect multiple parties? Urban tech solutions address collective tasks, and involve multiple players working together.
Special thanks to Bryan Boyer, University of Michigan for input on these filter criteria.
What We Didn't Include
After our initial screening, we identified several types of enterprises that were systematically excluded from further consideration.
Global platforms. While a number of large, global internet platform companies engage in urban tech and maintain a substantial presence in New York City, it isn't possible to clearly distinguish the number of employees or level of investment deployed here exclusively or primarily in urban tech innovation.
Firms not headquartered in New York City (with exceptions). This analysis is focused primarily on firms headquartered in New York City. Several large urban tech firms such as Uber and AirBnb have a substantial presence in the city. Where it is possible to allocate accurately, we included New York City employment for these enterprises, but do not include them in total investment figures.
Most government agencies. All municipal government agencies engage in urban tech to an extent. However we excluded government agencies with broad responsibilities and functions beyond urban tech. Notable exceptions are New York City Economic Development Corporation and NYC Planning Labs, which dedicate significant portions of their staff to the development or promotion of urban tech.
Organizations that govern or manage urban areas. Business improvement districts (BIDs), local development corporations (LDCs) and other similar organizations are included on a discretionary basis when they are found to be substantially involved in the promotion of urban tech, through the creation of a plan, promotion, or facility focused on urban tech.
Civic tech produced by individuals and collectives. While noteworthy, we determined it was not possible to determine a measurable economic impact in terms of employment, revenue, or investment for these types of activities.
In addition, a handful of subcategories of enterprises were excluded for a variety of reasons:
- Small business solutions without a clear urban impact. We excluded solutions that target small business operations such as point-of-sale or e-commerce solutions, except where those substantially transformed how those users operate in the public realm. For instance, e-commerce portal tools were excluded, but local delivery platforms typically were included because they have multiple impacts on the use of buildings, streets, and sidewalks.
- Job search, hiring, and workforce management tools not explicitly focused on local areas. The NYC Recovery Awards highlighted how digital technology can be used to strengthen a diverse range of formal and informal networks in the city—many of which deal with labor markets. However, we only include enterprises that focus exclusively on local labor markets.
- Commercial real estate finance and investing. Unlike innovations addressing housing finance, which directly address basic shelter needs of current and future city residents, we omitted tools aimed at commercial real estate investors as these are primarily used for speculation.
- Long-haul freight and logistics. We excluded long-haul logistics and shipping, which primarily operate outside urban areas, while including last-mile versions of the same.
A full, searchable list of the enterprises included in this analysis is available here.
Categories and Subcategories
After screening, we sorted urban tech enterprises in New York City into ten categories, which were further divided into subcategories. This scheme draws on earlier efforts to classify urban tech enterprises globally, including:
- Urban Impact Agency, "Berlin's silent urban tech revolution", 2020.
- Urban.us, "Urbantech Investor Playbook", 2019
- NYCEDC, "Urbantech NYC Digital Brochure 2019", 2019.
- Florida, R. "The Rise of Urban Tech: A Preliminary Assessment", 2018.
The urban tech categories and subcategories identified in these publications were synthesized and refined for representativeness of the New York City urban tech ecosystem and for clarity.
All enterprise data was collected from public information published by multiple sources including New York City Economic Development Corporation, CIV:LAB, Crunchbase, Pitchbook, corporate websites, and news media. The authors would like to acknowledge Tech:NYC for contributing a list of New York City-based tech startups tracked by that organization.
Director Michael Samuelian
Urbanist In Residence Anthony Townsend
Urban Tech Hub Research & Program Manager Nneka Sobers
Research Coordinators Preksha Agarwal, Max Dumas, William Hong, Eesha Khanna, Jenny Liu, Lars Kouwenhoven, Harrison Yu
Design Ben Oldenburg
Cornell Tech. “NYC's Urban Tech Engine: How Urban Tech Became New York City's Newest Innovation” June 2022. https://www.urbantechecosystem.nyc.