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DUMBO Wi-Fi: Taking Your Office Outdoors

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Yesterday, DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) became the first wireless neighborhood in New York City. In a partnership between the DUMBO Improvement District, Brooklyn Bridge Park and Two Trees Management Company (full disclosure: the real estate development company I work for) free Wi-Fi internet will now be provided along all the streets, parks and public spaces between the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges. While wireless networks are now common in disparate public spaces through NYC, never before has an entire neighborhood been blanketed with this service.

It is a fitting time for this initiative to launch, with NYC Internet Week kicking off next Monday and Mayor Bloomberg's call earlier this month for increased public Wi-Fi -- announced as part of his Roadmap for the Digital City. In the Roadmap report, Rachel Sterne -- chief digital officer for New York -- found that access to Wi-Fi in public spaces was one of the top requests coming from thousands of New Yorkers surveyed.

As the Digital Age changes our personal relationships, information consumption and business operations is it also going to change our physical environment as well? Will the traditional office place with cubicles and corner offices soon be obsolete too?

In designing the office district for the future, surely more than the built environment must now be considered. Public spaces are the backbone of a community and being thoughtful about their design and function should not be limited to the physical structure. Today, free Wi-Fi is an essential component of public space design and soon it may be an amenity commercial districts cannot live without.

DUMBO is home to nearly 100 digital and technology companies, some are well established like HUGE and Etsy, others are small entrepreneurial start-ups or recent graduates of incubators. All of them employ a non-traditional workforce that abhors the constraints of 9-5 workdays, suits in the office place and being tied to a desk. Now in DUMBO their work need not even be confined to the indoors. With a neighborhood wide Wi-Fi network meetings can take place in Brooklyn Bridge Park, on the stoop of a favorite building or under the grand Archway of the Manhattan Bridge. This initiative gives local companies a new work space to explore, allowing their work to literally spill out into the streets, building community and encouraging collaboration and innovation.

While this program may sound like an innovative oddity now, more for hype than use, in order to stay globally competitive New York City and the country as a whole may need to examine this model more closely. Just this month China Daily reported that China Telecom Corp Ltd will raise the number of Wi-Fi hotspots to one million by the end of 2012 to meet rising demand for mobile Internet. "Sun Minkang, deputy general manager of China Telecom Corp, said the company wants to expand Wi-Fi coverage to public areas that have a high population density such as office buildings, airports and coffee bars."

China plans to have one million hotspots by the end of 2012. According to the Hot-Spot Registry maintained by media company JiWire, in the first quarter of 2011 the United States had only 92,227 hotspots and placed third in the world behind the U.K. and China. If China hits one million hotspots, we won't even be in the same Wi-Fi stratosphere. It's time for our digital revolution and hopefully the public-private partnership unveiled on the Brooklyn Waterfront today is a step in that direction.