OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign Up / Login or Learn more

Building an accessible, sustainable, resilient urban food system for all New Yorkers

We will leverage data and our collective intelligence to build an accessible, sustainable, resilient urban food system for all New Yorkers

Photo of Shaina Horowitz
3 1

Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name


Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small company (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

NEWLAB builds diverse frontier-tech ecosystems and partners with city, industry and community stakeholders to catalyze innovation. We deliver tangible outcomes by engaging the local community and introducing new paradigms for multidisciplinary collaboration. NYU’s GovLab strengthens the ability of institutions and people to work more openly, collaboratively and effectively to solve public problems. Built on the belief that increased access to data, expertise in problem-solving processes, and advances in technology can transform governance. Graph Commons is a collaborative platform to build, analyze and publish data-networks that transform data into interactive maps and untangle complex relations within a system. It is a critical tool for systems mapping and analysis, civic activism and surfacing opportunities for innovation. NEWLAB has partnerships with both organizations and a shared commitment to leveraging data for the public good and for systems-level impact.

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Brooklyn, New York

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States of America

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Our vision is for New York State with a particular emphasis on New York City’s urban food system.

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States of America

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

NEWLAB is headquartered in New York, and public-private collaboration made the reinvention of our flagship location, a former shipbuilding facility that served as a major economic hub for Brooklyn in the first half of the 20th century, possible. It also instilled in us a deep commitment to ensure that our work supports innovation that benefits New Yorkers and contributes to a sustainable, accessible and livable future for our city. 

NEWLAB champions entrepreneurship and innovation by working with a diversity of stakeholders to apply frontier technologies to significant challenges. We are home to 750+ entrepreneurs, have partnerships with corporate and civic entities, and engage local communities through innovation and education programming. To date, NEWLAB’s member companies have raised over $450M in capital from 270+ investors, with over $350M of successful exits, and a collective valuation of over $2.6B.

New York City is one of the largest and most diverse urban centers in the world, with rural farmland found in much of the rest of the state. Understanding the rural-urban connections in the context of production, distribution, consumption, waste, regenerative agriculture, employment and community engagement between New York City and State are a critical component of our Vision for the future food system. The density and complexity of New York City combined with the escalating impacts of the climate crisis and a growing population make it a singularly compelling place to champion food system transformation. We believe that if we can develop, test and prove solutions that drive meaningful impact in New York City, we will create a model that can be adapted and replicated across the world.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

New York City is a densely populated and diverse city with 8.5M residents, of which 3M are foreign born, and it also welcomes nearly 1.6M commuters on a daily basis. In contrast, the rest of the state’s total land area is made up of one-quarter farmland, representing over 33,000 farms employing 55,000 people (New York Farm Bureau). With rural agricultural land upstate and an urban center with 26,403 people per square mile downstate, the need for a future food system that is accessible, resilient and nutritious is paramount. The acute challenges facing New York can also be felt in cities around the world, making our work prudent on a global scale. 

As the third largest economy in the country, New York City is the leading job provider for banking, finance, and communication. It is also a major manufacturing center and shipping port, and a thriving technology sector with 9,000+ startups and $15.6B VC dollars raised, innovation hubs and a network of incubators and accelerators that rivals Silicon Valley. However, income inequality is prevalent, with the cost of living rising at almost 3x the rate of wages, 2.5M New Yorkers are struggling to provide food, housing, and other basic necessities for their families (The New School), and approximately 1.2M New Yorkers suffer from hunger each year. Additionally, low-income communities are disproportionately affected as many are located in food deserts and lack the means to travel for better quality or better priced products. 

The Hunts Point Food Distribution Center is the largest food distribution center in the world, located on 329 acres in the Bronx and made up of over 200 wholesalers, distributors, and processing businesses with annual revenues of more than $5B (NYS Comptroller). It is the major food distribution hub for the New York City metro area, which receives roughly 50% of the 4.5 billion lbs. of food that is distributed through the Hunts Point annually (NYCEDC). Across the five boroughs, there are 48 farmers markets, 26 of which operate year round. These markets receive over 250,000 customers per week in peak season (GrowNYC). New York state’s agriculture industry represents nearly 200,000 jobs, responsible for churning out the state’s top agricultural products including dairy, corn, hay, and apples. 

With the projected population reaching 9M by 2040 (, New York City’s government is committed to making the City more resilient, equitable and accessible for residents. This intention is demonstrated most clearly by the OneNYC 2050 strategy, and New York City’s favorable policy environment for urban agriculture. The recent release of the City Council’s policy agenda includes a commitment to advance food equity and every New Yorker’s right to healthy food. Agriculture is a priority at the state level as well, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently announced a new $14M Farmland Protection Initiative to help New York farms maintain long-term viability.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)


What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

In November, NEWLAB hosted a Smart Urban Food Systems Summit in partnership with the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research to uncover challenges facing urban/regional food systems and to identify areas where partnerships and technologies can build comprehensive, resilient and accessible food systems. We convened a group of stakeholders across disciplines and sectors impacting the urban environment including academic researchers, policymakers, entrepreneurs, community advocates, data scientists, urban planners, investors, and non-profit organizations. The importance of having diverse experts and stakeholders at the table and taking a human-centered approach to problem solving was a consistent theme throughout the Summit. 

NEWLAB’s unique position as a neutral convener enabled this diverse group to share their perspectives, experiences, failures and successes as they worked through a series of ideation sessions to uncover common challenges and opportunities. From these sessions, food access and affordability emerged as critical issues. Current approaches to these issues are fragmented and driven by singular efforts that are by design unable to address the system as a whole and to take into consideration the impact of interconnected sectors. Food-based interventions often focus on providing access to food and reducing nutritional insecurity without considering the impact of other systemic factors ranging from the criminal justice system to wealth and racial inequity, access to public transportation, affordable housing, employment, and economic opportunity. 

Additionally, there is a lack of knowledge exchange and data sharing between stakeholder groups that are impacted by or working on improving these factors. Though food system stakeholders see value in learning from and partnering with innovators in adjacent fields, they generally lack the access, incentives and mechanisms to build these partnerships, which prevents collaboration that has the potential to unlock new learnings for urban food systems. These insights inform the strategy and methodology for our Vision to establish a regenerative, nourishing and accessible food future for 2050.

We invited Summit participants to set their sights on imagining a food system in 2050. Common themes underpinning a future system included building stronger urban-rural linkages and exploring opportunities for greater community ownership over food production. Technology was highlighted as a critical tool in enabling small- and medium-sized farms to support an equitable, nutritious and sustainable urban food system.

With a growing number of the world’s population living in cities and the mounting perils of the climate crisis demanding adaptation and resilience, there is an urgency to understand and assess where technology, new partnerships, research, education, policy design and innovative approaches can put us on a path toward building accessible, sustainable and resilient urban food systems for all.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

In order to address challenges facing New York’s urban food system, our Vision will develop a clear and comprehensive understanding of the system, including the relationships between the stakeholders and between the sectors that play a role in shaping and impacting the food system. To build food systems that nourish people and the planet, new models of collaboration and stakeholder engagement are necessary. 

Our position as an ecosystem builder and a neutral convener means we are committed to including diverse perspectives from the outset and throughout the process, ensuring we foster design with intention and human-centered outcomes. First, we will cultivate an ecosystem of New York food systems stakeholders by facilitating events to bring together academic researchers, policymakers, entrepreneurs, community advocates, data scientists, urban planners, investors, and non-profit organizations to foster cross-sector collaboration. This exchange of information, knowledge, data and techniques and the ability to realize untapped opportunities and potential collaborations will help transform the urban food system over time. 

Our Vision will create data-driven tools attuned to the needs of New York’s food system. These tools - informed by, tested by and iterated upon by the ecosystem referenced above - will enable the development of social and technological innovations that can be applied in novel ways and scaled to meaningfully improve food access and affordability in New York. First we will build a network map using Graph Commons to chart the interconnected relationships that impact the urban food system in New York City and pinpoint areas of opportunity. This will provide valuable insight into the types of stakeholders across the system and how each are currently engaging with the system. 

Leveraging this knowledge graph, we will work closely with NYU’s GovLab to develop the necessary framework and technical platform to facilitate data exchange and the leadership and expertise needed to catalyze scalable, ethical guidelines for data sharing. A data collaborative will foster transparency and awareness and enable a diverse group of innovators to build intelligence and applications for improving the system. For example, data can be analyzed to understand the flow of resources in New York City and to map where the City sources its food, including how local, rural and transnational food providers collectively feed a city. 

The data-driven tools will serve as the building blocks to enable systems-level thinking and insights, which will in turn inform how innovative technologies, partnerships and policy can address food system challenges while taking into consideration changes to population, cultural norms and behaviors, the climate, and our infrastructure. We believe this approach will form the foundation for the necessary knowledge sharing, partnerships and co-created community-led innovation needed to establish the future urban food system for New York.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

New York City represents a food system that is good for people and the planet and provides access to affordable, fresh and healthy food for all. The system is responsive to individual and community preferences, adapts to future economic and environmental changes, evolving health and culture trends, and technological advancements and policy developments. It is resilient in the face of unpredictable impacts, and prevents these impacts from negatively affecting access to nourishing food. Powering these changes is system-wide knowledge and data-sharing mechanisms that provide people with real agency and the opportunity to design and develop with prudence, intention and inclusivity.

Policymakers, academic researchers and urban planners have access to data that reflects the entire urban system, informing holistic interventions that take into consideration impacts on other sectors. City leaders, residents and business owners understand not only the inputs and consumption rates of the system, but also the outputs, waste and regenerative potential. Across the system, it is possible to consider environmental impact alongside human impact. 

Innovators leverage data streams to build tools to improve food system efficiencies and enable equitable access to nutritious food. New Yorkers have increased transparency into their food system, understanding where their food comes from, its nutritional value, and how to access it within their means. Upstate farmers have visibility into demand, optimizing their resources and accurately assessing the most efficient methods and routes for transporting their yields and opportunities for partnership with other businesses across the state.

At the highest level, food challenges aren’t addressed with food solutions alone. Instead, New York identifies food system needs and with the tools at hand, builds solutions that by design are intentional in how they impact the broader urban system, communities and the planet.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Our Vision to build an accessible, sustainable and resilient urban food system for all New Yorkers is rooted in a systems-level, data-driven approach that integrates a nuanced understanding of local social, economic, environmental, technological and policy considerations. This approach goes beyond food to take into account the economic realities and cultural specificity of people and the policies and systems that impact their job opportunities, healthcare, housing, mobility as well as their dietary needs, preferences and lifestyles. 

There are three initiatives required to achieve this Vision: 1) convening diverse stakeholders and creating a shared commitment across this community 2) creating a network map to illustrate the diversity of and connection between the people, organizations, places, infrastructure, policy, investments and outcomes that make up the urban food system of New York and demonstrate change over time 3) building the technical and governance mechanisms to support data collaboratives which enable the exchange of data to inform insights, new applications and opportunities that will bring about positive change for all. 

This Vision creates an opportunity to imagine how a regenerative and nourishing urban food system not only feeds its population but improves the resilience, economic fortitude and climate adaptability of the City. By considering the environmental impacts of land use and resource-intensive agricultural processes along with the technological advancements that will enable us to feed a growing population, it is possible to envision a food future that does not deplete our natural resources. 

To build a food system that nourishes people and the planet, new models of collaboration and stakeholder engagement are necessary. New Lab’s position as a neutral convener enables us to bring diverse perspectives to the table from the outset, ensuring we foster design with intention. As exemplified by the Smart Urban Food System Summit we hosted in November 2019, we will organize regular convenings to build and maintain the ecosystem of New York’s food systems stakeholders. We are actively engaged in dialogue with academic researchers, policymakers, entrepreneurs, community advocates, data scientists, urban planners, investors, and non-profit organizations and look forward to broadening this reach to include additional voices from philanthropy, business, the community and local schools.

A convening platform to foster cross-sector collaboration is critical; each of these stakeholders is driving forward their own important work to improve the food system, but no single individual can pull in all of the perspectives necessary to ensure their approach is holistic. By building a diverse and inclusive brain-trust committed to improving the future of the urban food system in New York, we will ensure that solutions reflect the diversity of our city and serve as an adaptable model for other global geographies and communities.

Leveraging the expertise of Graph Commons and NYU’s GovLab, we will equip innovators and problem-solvers with data-driven tools to address the challenges facing New York’s food system. Developing a dynamic, living network map that pulls in data and charts the complex relationships and interconnections between sectors is a key part of the systems-level approach of our Vision. 

To effectively design a food system, we must first understand how social, economic, environmental, technological and policy factors influence and interact with the system. Understanding and analyzing the web of connections and interdependencies in the New York City food system will help us see how these factors are connected and realize untapped opportunities and surface new collaborations that can drive meaningful impact.

Building from the knowledge and insight provided by the network map, we will work with NYU’s GovLab to establish the framework, guidance and mechanisms to enable the exchange of public and private data sets from urban system stakeholders. Access to urban data will be key to this equation. Access, however, is only part of the story. First we must align stakeholders to see the value in data generation and exchange and better understand supply and demand on the system. 

Data sharing has the potential to unleash systems-level change across urban environment indicators, such as charting food delivery routes into and across the City against waste pickup routes to reveal inefficiencies and inspire a reorganization of the way New York City transports the inputs and outputs of the food system. Or it could help build a regenerative system by identifying food systems that can be collected and recycled to create new products that can be fed back into the system. Output from one system could provide inputs to another; foundational to this kind of closed loop system is the exchange of data across parties and an opportunity to forge new partnerships that create mutual benefit. Our Vision will create the conditions for this catalytic change.

The data collaborative we intend to build with GovLab will be an indispensable tool that can be leveraged by all stakeholders to create new applications for transforming the food system and to identify real needs and the kind of interventions that would work create impact today and over time.

As the food system evolves over time, the data collaborative will serve as an adaptive resource with the ability to pull in new streams of data and create new insights that provide a holistic representation of the City’s urban food system and how it connects with the environment and the broader community. This is how our Vision ensures the urban food system is sustainable -- we design tools that can respond and adapt to a changing world.

Combined with the ability to foster a diverse ecosystem of innovators, these data-driven tools will lead to new partnerships, policies, products, processes and services attuned to New York City’s needs and our commitment to a green future. Instead of developing strategies to address challenges in siloes, stakeholders - from community leaders to policymakers, investors to students and entrepreneurs - will be equipped with the collective expertise of the urban environment and able to put forth holistic recommendations and solutions to benefit all New Yorkers. Our Vision enables innovators in adjacent sectors and outside of New York City to build on top of the data insights to further advance efficient, resilient and equitable urban food systems.

NEWLAB will put the shared knowledge of urban food system stakeholders and the system-wide data insights surfaced by the network map and data collaborative tools into practice. We will apply entrepreneurship and innovation to support the development of technologies, partnerships and policies to address food system challenges while taking into consideration impacts on adjacent sectors.

The human-centered and system-wide approach guiding our Vision is particularly suited for New York City. When taking into account the density and complexity of our infrastructure and urban center, the rural-urban connections across the state and the diversity of our population it becomes apparent this is the only viable approach. With a population nearing 9 million that represents over 200 languages spoken and 3 million foreign-born residents, New York City is truly a melting pot. To give a sense of this diversity, New York City is home to the largest population of Chinese outside of Asia, West Indians outside of the West Indies, Domincans outside of Santo Domingo, and more Puerto Ricans live here than any other city in the world. New York City’s compact and highly interconnected urban landscape necessitates that access to the local food system is related to or dependent on every other aspect of city life. Where New Yorker’s live, their transportation options, their economic opportunity, their personal identity and culture, and the environment, technologies and policies that shape their communities ultimately influence their relationship with the urban food system.

The approach to creating an accessible, sustainable and resilient urban food system in New York will require a systems-level approach that is comprehensive and rooted in the local context. We believe convening power, data mapping and data collaboratives will be central to achieving this impact. Convenings will build consensus and commitment from a diverse set of stakeholders. Data mapping will identify untapped opportunities based on the interrelated nature of our food system’s various components. Data collaboratives will improve our understanding of the system overall and enable people to build policies, partnerships, products and services to advance our food future. We look forward to the opportunity to partner with you on bringing this Vision to life.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Former Rockefeller Foundation team member brought it to our attention


Join the conversation:

Photo of charles hage

Hi Shaina,
I like how you plan to tackle a big issue with vital initiatives: stakeholder consensus, data mapping, and mechanisms for action. Our submissions stem from different places and perspectives, but seek to attain common goals by transforming a disconnected system. You conclude with "We look forward to the opportunity to partner with you ... " In particular I'm keen on how to bring data and ideas together to create a connected food system. Perhaps we should exchange some thoughts.

Photo of charles hage

Hi Shaina,
Your vision is stated as being for NYS with emphasis on NYC. I should have asked earlier, but does that mean your system will be applied first to NYC and later to upstate?

View all comments