Billboard Touts New York As Refuge From Silicon Valley Tech Culture
New York City, home of Wall Street, the mafia’s Five Families, Donald Trump, Martin Shkreli and Harvey Weinstein, is also home to a burgeoning technology industry. Thanks to a recent string of notable tech startups, an influx of venture investment, and some heavy cheerleading from former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the Big Apple is now second only to Silicon Valley in terms of venture capital raised by startups.
But now, with a backlash growing toward the tech industry’s overwhelming power and wealth, one New Yorker is trying to capitalize on the opportunity. Andrew Rasiej, founder of New York-based community organization Civic Hall, has purchased a billboard on US 101, the main thoroughfare connecting San Francisco with Silicon Valley. Rasiej’s message, nestled among signs recruiting techies to join startups with goofy names, is that New York City is more pious than Silicon Valley. “I’m frustrated as #%*&! in Silicon Valley,” reads a portion of the billboard designed to look like a text message. “WeWantYouIn.NYC,” reads the response.
At first glance, the billboard appears to be an effort of New York political or business leaders. But Rasiej says he purchased the billboard on his own out of frustration over the way the entire tech industry gets lumped in with Silicon Valley. “I don’t want New York to be associated with Silicon Valley and the culture of Silicon Valley,” he says. “I want to make sure people know there is a very clear distinction between the way New York’s tech community thrives, acts, and thinks of itself.” A spokesperson for the New York City Economic Development Council confirms the city had no involvement in the billboard, but says it is “proud to have built a unique and truly diverse tech ecosystem in New York City.”
Rasiej describes himself on his website as a “civic and social entrepreneur,” and technology strategist. In addition to Civic Hall, he also co-founded Civic Hall Labs, which works on technology pilots to serve the public interest. In an essay on WeWantYouIn.NYC, Rasiej lists the tech industry’s evils (Privacy invasions! Online harassment! Unethical AI! Wealth disparity! A lack of diversity!) and declares that the industry’s response to such problems has been “meager, ineffective and self-serving.” Rasiej says New York is more capable of shifting the industry away from those problems.
He cites the city’s diverse population and more diverse economy, and the city’s many meetups of technologists as reasons. Further, “New York City is more empathetic than Silicon Valley,” he writes, because of its “social change sector” and a handful of companies that have “human equity-first” values. Rasiej also argues New York doesn’t look for unicorn startups with billion-dollar valuations. (Except, of course, it does.)
Rasiej namechecks a few of the many Bay Area philanthropists and organizations dedicated to good causes before concluding that those efforts fall short. He also concedes that New York’s tech companies might have some of the same problems as their Bay Area counterparts.
Since unveiling the billboard Tuesday night, Rasiej says the response has been mostly positive. His site has a form that allows people who agree with him to sign their names in solidarity. It had accumulated around 100 names as of Wednesday morning.
UPDATE, 8pm: This story has been updated to include comments from the New York City Economic Development Council.
Author Erin Griffith