East Village Residents Mobilize Against a New “Silicon Alley”

The arrival of a tech hub on 14th Street has neighbors worried about the character of their community

A bit of Silicon Valley may soon be settling in the East Village, and residents aren’t too happy about it.

Last December, the New York City Economic Development Corporation announced the development of a “tech hub” at 14th Street and Irving. Currently housing a PC Richards, the electronics and appliance chain, the building will become a shared space for tech companies by 2020. This builds upon the recent arrival of IBM and Facebook in the blocks below Union Square. A crowd of East Village residents gathered at a rally on Saturday to voice their concerns about this tech wave in their historic district.

The efforts against the tech expansion include a rezoning proposal pioneered by the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. “We don’t want it to be Silicon Alley,” said Elizabeth Oyen, an East Village Community Coalition board member at the rally. “But if we have to have the tech hub, then we have to rezone now.”

The rezoning proposal places restrictions on the height and size of commercial buildings in the neighborhood while also creating more incentives to build and develop affordable housing. Community leaders’ resistance against the tech hub centers on the creation of these residential units.

“De Blasio claims to care about affordable housing,” says Andrew Berman, Executive Director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. Berman is hopeful that rezoning proponents can compromise with Mayor de Blasio. Oyen wrote in a press statement that she hopes “the City doesn’t forget the importance of neighborhoods and communities.”

Although local leaders like Oyen are aware of the potential benefits of having tech companies in the East Village, they are concerned that developments like the one proposed at 14th Street and Irving will erase the neighborhood’s history and character.

“We have to preserve the Village feel,” says Neil Golub, 37, who has lived in the East Village for seven years. Residents like Golub have mixed feelings about the arrival of tech companies, especially regarding the size and aesthetic of the proposed high rises in a neighborhood known for its brownstones and vintage shops.

More longtime East Villagers have already experienced the effects of commercial development, with the expansion of New York University and luxury apartment buildings. So with the rise of what residents have dubbed, “Silicon Alley,” they worry things will only get worse.

Katharine Wolpe, who has lived in the East Village for 40 years, says the neighborhood will need to build more schools and retail stores to accommodate the incoming tech employees and their families. Wolpe fears that historic buildings like the post office on 11th Street will also be threatened in the process.

“I’m worried about the ripple effect,” Wolpe said.


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