Tracking Development in Long Island City

The Long Island City Partnership uses Ginkgo to share data points about economic development in and around the downtown in order to support better, more informed planning and development for their community.

By Starling Childs

Long Island City (LIC) is a New York City neighborhood on the rise, literally. There is more real estate being built in LIC than any other neighborhood in the country right now, on a square foot basis. Many local factors drive this growth. To understand these local factors and the impact that this development will have on the neighborhood going forward, the LIC community needed a way to collect and analyze local data from a range of different sources. The Long Island City Partnership, a local development corporation that manages the LIC Business Improvement District, collects and analyzes data related to neighborhood conditions and real estate development. For the members and staff of Long Island City Partnership, knowing everything there is to know about the area —what conditions enable it perform its best for all stakeholders and how to improve the neighborhood— is as much a priority for them as running their own businesses locally.

LIC is one of the premier industrial neighborhoods in New York. In addition to its industrial legacy, LIC has exceptionally good transit access to the busiest downtown in the country, Midtown Manhattan. Over the past decade, there have been two major contributing factors to the changes happening in LIC: great transit access and an abundance of large, underutilized manufacturing buildings and vacant lots. As of Jul 24, 2018 and looking back since 2006, development of new buildings and reuse or conversion of existing industrial spaces resulted in over 12,800 new housing units, 3,000 new hotel rooms and more than one million square feet of office space in the LIC area. And this past decade of growth was just the beginning. The area around the three main subway stations in LIC will continue to grow with more than 24,000 housing units, 5,000 hotel rooms, and over 2.8 million square feet of office space in the pipeline over the next ten years.

The Long Island City Partnership maintains interactive maps and datasets with downloadable records using Ginkgo's "Member Portal" features in order to help people learn about the LIC community and find opportunities in the downtown. Anyone with access can draw their own custom areas on the map to analyze data for specific blocks or zones and download the records as a spreadsheet. For more info, visit:

LIC is experiencing an unprecedented neighborhood transformation. On the surface, there is no doubting this, given the ubiquitous construction taking place across the city, but it’s less clear what that big change will ultimately be; what it will mean for the neighborhood and New York City in general.

To understand how this transformation will affect LIC and how the changes will impact the city as a whole, analysts and decision makers need access to accurate on-the-ground insight about the area and ways to track and analyze local data. Neighborhood organizations like LICP are uniquely positioned to provide this insight by managing data locally and sharing information that can ensure the right decisions get made.

Take real estate developers as an example. Developers are less likely to invest in the right sites, or construct a building with the right mix of uses if they do not have accurate insight about the status of existing properties and other real estate projects under construction or planned, block to block. On the public sector side, decision makers need insight into these variables as well. It’s important for policy makers and the consultants they work with to understand the local dynamics of the area and contributing factors in order to plan for long term growth and community resilience.

The number of hotels currently being built in Long Island City raises questions for the real estate market and the local community:

  • Will there be a market for so many hotel rooms? Or will the market demand even more rooms be built?
  • How will a large amount of transient housing units impact the LIC community from a social perspective?
  • Should New York City be thinking about adopting new land use policies for the area that enable other land use options for certain properties?
Analyzing local data further is the most effective way to understand trends, as well as measure the impacts on the neighborhood and surrounding areas over time.

Sourcing High Quality Local Data

Access to accurate data about local conditions of a neighborhood is important to drive better decision-making, but the big question this raises is: where does trusted local data about a neighborhood like LIC come from, and who maintains it?

What about municipal sources like government agencies, you might ask? Government data is helpful, and with advancements in government open data policies and technology, it is becoming more accessible. Yet, this data generally canvases only public service related events, such as building permits, 311 complaints, and real estate deed transfers, to name a few. These publicly controlled data sources are quite difficult to work with unless you have technical skills in GIS and data science. To be useful for the type of neighborhood-scale analysis that cities want to promote today, even the best government data analysis tools require an additional layer of insight in order to reach the broader audience. Cities and neighborhoods can't afford to wait around for the New York Times' "NYT Open" crew or similarly tech-enabled media team to dissect and compose story telling pieces for us. The type of local insight about a neighborhood needed for planning and development to be effective must clearly convey data points from a range of dynamic elements that make up a community, such as:

  • local business performance and number of employees;
  • street life activity and active pedestrian areas;
  • the current status of real estate development activity, and square footage of vacant commercial spaces on busy streets.

These are data points that help inform an accurate picture of a neighborhood historically, in real-time and looking ahead.

At Ginkgo we believe the best way to enable data about neighborhoods to be more accessible is to equip the folks who know the neighborhood the best and already represent the interest of major stakeholders with the tools to curate and track these local metrics themselves. We also believe facilitating local community-based collaboration remains one of bigger challenges that cities face today, and solving for this has proven to unlock opportunities to better understand cities at the local neighborhood level. That said, this remains a big challenge for cities. Even if by some miracle of grassroots community engagement, all property owners and business owners decided to create a big shared Google Sheets or Airtable spreadsheet with data about their business operations and property details, it would still require regular management and upkeep in order for it be useful. This equates to a pretty big lift for even a moderately technical volunteer or two. And actually facilitating the hand holding and onboarding to get local community stakeholders to work together around a shared resource like this would be a lot easier said than done.

For Long Island City, high quality and trustworthy data about ongoing development, among other aspects of the neighborhood, exists thanks to the hard work of the Long Island City Partnership's staff and board of directors, as well as the LIC Business Improvement District. This locally organized non-profit collects and shares accurate neighborhood data with the local community, as well as those interested in joining or supporting the community, in order to avail a knowledge-base of useful data points for making better decisions about LIC. The LIC Partnership understands that, while they do not control the local market, they can do their best to inform it based on accurate on-the-ground information about the neighborhood.

New York City 2017 Report on BIDs, page 10.

The LIC Business Improvement District

Business Improvement Districts, or BIDs for short, are an interesting community-based development model for realizing coordinated neighborhood improvement efforts. One of the most unique aspects of BIDs is that they are a self-taxing entity created by local owners and administered by the city government. This special tax assessment is received by the BID and used to provide supplemental services that the BID members/stakeholders agree will add value to their neighborhood and help the area perform better as a commercial center, and as a place in general. The result is a democratic model for local investment that the entire community benefits from. These additional services may include economic development and retail tenant services, sanitation and security departments that augment the city’s own services, streetscape improvements, horticulture installations, event planning, and visitor services.

To help further support local services, such as economic development and marketing services for Long Island City, the neighborhood property owners, businesses and the Long Island City Partnership formed a Business Improvement District for the neighborhood. The LIC BID was established in 2005 and in 2017 it was expanded, doubling the number of properties included in the district. Ginkgo has been an instrumental data management and mapping tool for the Partnership throughout the expansion and ongoing operations.

Visit the Long Island City Partnership’s website,, to learn more about this neighborhood that is changing so rapidly, and explore the local data they collect and share to track the changes and inform decision makers.

Originally posted on October 2, 2017 on the Meeting of the Minds blog:

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