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OPEN:2050 New York // NYU ITP's Vision for a Revitalized New York/Hudson Valley

The future will find a harmony between humanity, emerging technology and our environment to usher in New York's Green Industrial Revolution.

Photo of Nikhil Kumar
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Lead Applicant Organization Name

NYU Interactive Telecommunication Program (ITP)

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Other

Website of Legally Registered Entity

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

  • Just beginning now

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

New York City

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?

New York Region (New York City through Hudson Valley)

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States of America

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

As students at New York University (NYU), New York is our home. And in true New York fashion, we've come from every corner of the world to be here. Our global perspectives and varied experiences both contribute to and are reflected in the fabric of this diverse city. Much like our home base at the Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP), New York City is many places all at once and yet a place completely its own. 

The food we consume, where we consume it, and who we consume it with inform and impact our relationship to this place. We’ve sought out the niche markets that enable us to cook dishes from our home countries; tried the latest cutting-edge cuisine at new restaurants and New York staples at mom-and-pop establishments; become loyal to our neighborhood bodegas; and experienced the myriad meal-delivery apps bringing food directly to our couches. Food in this city is every incarnation of fuel, art, and experience.

Collectively, our relationship to the New York region is one of discovery and experimentation, as evidenced by our academic program. In addition to coming from different countries, we also represent a range of professional backgrounds and creative disciplines. We are engineers, designers, writers, architects, scientists, and artists, all with a common passion for the evolving role of technology to advance public good. 

We feel a sense of urgency and responsibility to use our strengths in creative, strategic, and innovative practice to envision and foster a positive, regenerative, and fair future for the New York region––and with the combined skill sets of our team and the resources of ITP, we’re uniquely poised to do so.

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 booming with opportunity for some, and a rat race for many. If it's described as urban, bustling, and transient, the Hudson Valley is its direct inverse: rural, serene, and intergenerational––a classic tale of a progressive, diverse, and densely populated city situated within a more conservative, homogenous, and bucolic countryside. 

According to the World Atlas, 800 different spoken languages make it the most linguistically diverse place in the world. And where there is diversity of language, there is diversity of food. Women sell homemade churros on the subway platforms while passersby board their trains, cups in hand from the coffee carts on the street above. Within one city block, you can encounter everything from a Jewish deli to a samosa spot––even Chinatown’s produce markets are a stone's throw from corporate grocery stores.

The city offers options in excess, and yet there exist localized food deserts. As of 2018, over 1 million people in New York City reside in food-insecure households. In the Bronx, which is populated predominantly by people of color, roughly a quarter live with food insecurity. New York City suffers from a concentration of wealth and access to nutritious choices, leaving many unable to put food on the table.

New York City often feels more closely connected to the world’s major markets than to its surrounding Hudson Valley. Just a short train ride north and you enter rolling expanses of farmland, orchards, and road-side stands. Best known for its apples and dairy products, the Hudson Valley has historically been one of the most productive breadbaskets in the world. An overwhelming 96% of New York farms are family owned, but the number of individual farms is decreasing while the average size of farms is increasing, a statewide trend of fewer farms accruing the bulk of business and revenue. 

And yet, there’s a hopeful counter-culture emerging in the shadows of Big Ag––even as small farms struggle to stay afloat, the number of certified organic farms has increased exponentially, from 824 in 2012 to 1,340 in 2017. Racial and gender diversity is also steadily growing in what has been a predominantly white space. It's been observed that since 2012, the number of farmers from all other races has increased by nearly 14%, with Hispanic and Latinx farmers at an increase of 26%. Similarly, there has been a marked increase in the number of women running farm operations. 

Recent history sheds light on the areas of our Food System most poised for revolution. Members of our team who grew up within the five boroughs have seen the devastating effects of gentrification on local purveyors. Others, who have lived upstate, have witnessed the plights of family-run farms. It’s our observation that the further removed from our food supply chain we become, the more at-risk our breadbasket is to a monolithic industrial food system that prioritizes concentrated profit over nourishment, health, community, and pleasure.


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.

The problems we face in 2020 are a direct result of the organizational designs of World War II. 

Eighty years ago, we dreamt of feeding the world through centralized efficiency and cheap manufacturing at scale. Today, while aspects of this dream have come true, so too have  many nightmarish side-effects. Re-imagining the principles for a world that is fundamentally more global and distributed than ever is at the root of our biggest challenges.

Economic Opportunity is Concentrated.

The positive outcomes of innovation in the New York City/Hudson Valley region have asymmetrically benefited the wealthy. This has incurred wide-spread mistrust of our public servants, media, large companies, and one another. It has also blocked those without access to opportunity from from expressing their ideas for the betterment of us all.

Centralized Manufacturing is Wasteful and Fragile.

Manufacturing products at low-cost and high-scale has increased how much material wealth exists in the region. However, it’s also led to a breaking-point of overconsumption of non-renewable materials and an overproduction of waste. Already, climate change has acidified our water supplies and increased volatility in the climate, reducing food production and driving up the price of food. With fewer farms and a small set of food processing facilities, the current food system has a concentrated set of points of failure, exposing the whole region to quick-spreading illness and crop disease.

Food is Unhealthy.

While we have greater access to food from anywhere in the world, our meals are increasingly less nutritious, designed to exploit our most basic biological desires. One in four New York County residents struggle with obesity, a direct result of the unhealthy ingredients peddled to us by fast-food, soda, and snack companies. 

Civic Participation is Broken and Unrepresentative.

Special-interest groups have proven to be the guiding voices in our region’s government–– exacerbating existing economic disparity. Consumers have been disconnected from the systems that feed them. Thus, unfair labor practices, ecological harm, and nutritional misinformation have propagated without legislative accountability. 

Just as the current challenges of our food systems are born from World War II era innovations, the challenges of food systems in 2050 will be born from the technological innovations of the present.

We predict that food systems innovators of 2050 will be faced with the following questions:

  • How will we curb emissions and reshape our lifestyles to regenerate our environment?

  • As decentralized technologies become the norm, how will we create broadly shared values and rights in the region?

  • How can we distribute economic and civic opportunity broadly and fairly across our region?

  • What are the social and economic costs of integrating technologies such as autonomous transportation and virtual reality into our societies?

  • Can we move away from food that is engineered for gratification instead of nutrition?

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

OPEN:2050 is NYU ITP’s vision for a transformed, transparent, and intentionally interdependent food system.

This vision centers the interdependence of our sociocultural and economic systems. To tackle the existential threats to our environment and reform our cultural and economic practices in order to expand opportunity more broadly and with more equity, we envision a series of transformative changes over the next 3 decades that will usher in a more positive and sustainable future.

Circular economics extend the lifespans of products and broadens opportunity.

Regenerating our environment requires removing carbon––but it really requires reshaping systems-level behavior. One of the single biggest optimizations will come from reducing food waste and extending the life of non-perishable materials, like clothes and packaging. 

We envision the use of cryptocurrencies to incentivize optimal behavior across food and manufacturing systems. A food producer who makes heritage, low-carbon tomatoes, for instance, can be frictionlessly paid with OPEN:Coin upon pickup of that produce. Produce that doesn’t meet the standards of OPEN:2050 will be unsupported. Similar incentives can be built into the OPEN:Coin protocol for consumer behaviors and for food waste producers/users. An entirely different set of incentives can be implemented for, say, clothing manufacturing and use. Ultimately, OPEN:Coin can be exchanged for US Dollars for use outside of the OPEN:2050 boundaries.

Efficient autonomous transport supports modern lifestyles while revitalizing heritage produce.

We envision a revitalization of small rural farms, and a renaissance for urban farms that grow food at a rate that meets the needs of all people in our region. The food grown on these farms will make use of the Hudson Valley’s arable land, and farmers will be expected to grow crops indigenous to the region. 

We believe that our balance of rural and urban farm model will require a novel food distribution network. In our model, food transportation will be fueled with renewable resources and funded both by the public and private sector. The transportation network algorithms for efficient delivery will draw inspiration from slime mold network models and earlier advances from rideshare organizations.

As global ingredients are replaced by local ones, chefs will need to innovate to recreate flavors of cherished recipes. The food of the future will be as nutritious as it is delicious.

Quadratic voting centers underrepresented voices in civic life.

In 2050, democracy in New York City/Hudson Valley will be facilitated by a new model of voting. Each state legislator will have the same amount of votes for a given set of issues. However, should a legislator want to apply more than one of their votes to a specific issue, each additional vote will be valued quadratically, not linearly.  This model ensures that our public servants are properly setting the legislative agenda.

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.

OPEN:2050 is NYU ITP’s vision for a transformed, transparent, and intentionally interdependent food system. The initiative focuses on re-incentivizing behaviors between food growers and consumers utilizing new technologies and reformed policymaking, while centering small farms, urban growers and historically underrepresented communities. With the challenges of 2020 addressed, the residents of the New York Hudson Valley will be able to live their lives with agency and full expressiveness. 

Food growers, both urban and rural, will be able to seamlessly get their produce to end-consumers via the OPEN:Transport autonomous vehicle network. They will receive OPEN:Coin tokens for producing ecologically friendly, heritage produce and will not have to worry about creating their own markets for unusual crops. Instead, with a transparent framework for crop production recommendations, farmers will have unprecedented support in growing nutritious, tasty food for consumers across the region.

Food consumers will taste ingredients that have been grown for flavor; a stark departure from the mass-produced varieties of the 2020s. They’ll have access to produce from all across the region, packaged with stories about the producers and tutorials from respected chefs. Community kitchens will abound in neighborhoods across the region, with public investment used to purchase kitchen equipment. The social fabric of daily life will be woven around food, as neighbors come together to cook local ingredients with global tastes.

Chefs will be respected as the teachers, tastemakers, and scientists that they are. Their profession will no longer require backbreaking work at low pay; instead, with more cooking happening at home and in community kitchens, chefs will instruct the public about how to transform local ingredients using fermentation, bio-engineering, and advanced cooking techniques.

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

OPEN:2050 is NYU ITP’s vision for a transformed, transparent, and intentionally interdependent food system. 

The initiative focuses on re-incentivizing behaviors between food growers and consumers utilizing new technologies and reformed policymaking, while centering small farms, urban growers and historically underrepresented communities.

Our vision rests on a few principles:

People need agency and full expressiveness to be their best.

Our future imagines a healthy, prosperous, cultured, dynamic New York. But why? Why does it matter that we have health, wealth, and knowledge? Ultimately, we believe that our fundamental goals as humans center around our ability to express ourselves and do so with agency. Having good health, then, removes physiological barriers to expression. Similarly, knowledge improves our ability to make sound decisions, to evaluate tradeoffs-- to embrace the boundaries that should exist for individuals in a society without compromising individual consent to those boundaries. This pursuit of agency and expressiveness underpins our aspirations as individuals, artists, technologists and as a community at ITP and is the philosophy anchor for our vision.

Economic opportunity should be broadly and fairly distributed to maximize agency and expressiveness.

In our pursuit of a future with more agency and expressiveness, we recognize that exchanges of resources between individuals and communities have always been a lubricant for progress throughout history. The way these resources have acquired and transferred, however, has rarely been fair and has often been concentrated in the hands of the few. OPEN:2050 will strive to create a set of frameworks that center the voices of the historically underrepresented in the New York region to ensure the mistakes of the past are not repeated. Wherever possible to encode fairer processes into the technologies of the day, whether autonomous transport, molecular food technology, or open cryptocurrency protocols, OPEN:2050 will do so. As a result, we expect to see entrepreneurs, artists and policymakers from more communities, contributing their ideas to our collective future.

New York can support its globalized tastes with local inputs.

New York’s diversity is its greatest strength. But our taste for global food requires shipping ingredients from all over the world, often in a hurry. However, New York is capable of growing so many ingredients that, with a bit of creativity, can be fashioned into all sorts of global tastes. Thanks to the work of chefs like Dan Barber at Blue Hill in New York and Rene Redzepi at Noma in Copenhagen, we are already beginning to understand how ingredients native to New York and Copenhagen are being transformed, through thoughtful farming, fermentation, or cooking techniques, to taste radically different. OPEN:2050 aims to accelerate the development of scientific and cultural practices that shift our kitchens to be stocked with local ingredients while we maintain our rich global food culture.

In order to make these principles a reality, we will leverage new technologies and a strong positive vision to shift cultural practices and economic behavior. To see these in practice, let’s fast forward to 2050 and hear directly from some people living in the New York region. 

Sheila, Farmer, Hudson Valley, NY:

"Life on the farm is different. When I was a kid, back in the early 2010’s, small farms like us were a dying breed. New York didn’t seem to know we existed anymore; 70+% of the food consumed in the state came from a handful of large producers. We were scraping by, carting our food to farmers markets and selling whatever we could to companies like Walmart and Whole Foods—tenuous arrangements, to say the least. It didn’t seem like it at the time, but we were about to emerge from single-crop, mass-produced farming to a renaissance of small scale, regional farming. As small farmers, we’re now living in a new golden age of food production.

Gone are the days of specializing in growing a single crop, largely supported by government subsidies meant to make our exports competitive globally. In those days, our food system was efficient for some, and fragile for all. Eventually, that fragility became clear as food-borne disease outbreaks roiled the whole world and climate change changed the variables so that the crops we’d bred for durability were no longer viable.

Now, my family and employees are able to manage our small farm full of diverse crops that grow symbiotically, with healthy microbial activity and livestock living happily alongside our crops. We’ve brought back dozens of varieties of carrots and another dozen-plus types of tomatoes, all with a storied history in the Hudson Valley pre-1950s industrial policy.

Thanks to the development of fully autonomous transportation networks, it’s so easy to load our harvest onto autonomous, on-demand transport vehicles and get paid on-the-spot. We don’t have to spend entire days lugging produce into the city, uncertain whether we’d be able to sell everything at farmers markets, nor do we have  to sign unfair contracts with giant companies, yet we still enjoy the same financial stability they provided in their best light. 

As a matter of fact, a truck from GreenMarket NYC just pulled up. I’m going to load up my latest harvest of carrots right now and get OPEN:Coin right away."

Neal, Home Kitchen, New York City:

"I just got my groceries for the week. The GreenMarket bot just brought in a couple of boxes of vegetables. I love opening the box; my TV displays portraits of the farmers whose farms these vegetables came from and lets me hear stories from each of them. Sometimes they talk about the history of this breed of vegetable; the best ways to use it; a bit about the farm and farmer’s lives; a bit about the farming techniques used on the farm. Sometimes these stories have opportunities to earn OPEN:Coin embedded-- by giving feedback to the farmers, for example.

The carrots I received are from the Hudson Valley. The spinach, from an apartment in the Lower East Side. The honey in this kit is from that same part of LES where the apartment building has encouraged beekeeping on the roof. Every week, I get ingredients from different places around New York, and I can order others on-demand. The OPEN:Transport network makes it easy to see where they are sourcing ingredients that end up in my fridge.

I got my ingredients delivered to my apartment today, but sometimes I’ll have them sent to my neighborhood kitchen—a shared facility that has all of the cooking equipment one could dream of, available for the neighborhood to use together. On Wednesdays, we’ll pool our ingredients together and cook a feast. Before we start cooking, we pull up a projection of one of our favorite chefs, who helps us come up with interesting recipes and coaches us throughout the cooking process. We used to just sit at home and order in Seamless or go out to eat. I remember how empty those days felt. Now, I think we’ve found a good balance between eating in the comfort of our home, sharing cooking experiences with each other, and learning from chefs at their restaurants."

Cy, Stone Barns Restaurant and Foundation, Upstate New York:

“People don’t eat in restaurants as much as they used to. There aren’t as many restaurants, either. I love all of it. The old days were pretty brutal; low pay, long hours, no healthcare but dangerous health conditions. Now, thanks to the work of the earlier greats like David Chang, Christina Tosi and Dan Barber, we’ve expanded our notion of chefs: we’re teachers, scientists, artists, and the public sees us that way. 

When the OPEN:2050 frameworks started rolling out, we knew that the increasing pace of restaurant expansion would have to change. Some hated it. But in reality, the setup we have now is so much more sustainable for everyone. OPEN:2050 incentivized restaurants to minimize food waste and share their practices for how they worked with ingredients that home cooks would have normally discarded––think corn husks and animal bones. 

I spend just as much time creating tutorials that OPEN:Transport subscribers get to use at home when they cook as I do at the restaurant. When diners eat in-person, they’re here to learn. We give them tableside demos; they leave with notes. It’s a different world. 

I think that we’ve escaped from a world where scarcity dominated the mindsets of so many people, including many of us cooks. Now that we’re secure in understanding how we’re going to eat, get healthcare, earn a living, and do so in a stable environment, we’ve started to realize the best versions of ourselves.”

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

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Join the conversation:

Photo of Constanza Castano

Hi, Nikhil Kumar ! Welcome to the Food System Vision Prize Community!

Please make sure you have reviewed your final submission through the Pocket Guide to support you through the final hours of wrapping up your submission. This will give you the most important bullet points to keep in mind to successfully submit your Vision.

Here is the link to the pocket guide:

All the very best for the Prize!

Warm regards,