Rhonda Binda: Building Modern Communities In New York City
BY SAM RAPPAPORT
Rhonda Binda builds smarter cities. As the co-founder and vice president of policy for Venture Smarter and the executive director of the company’s Regional Smart Cities Initiative, Binda helps to create modern, efficient, technologically advanced communities.
“We help governments, businesses and universities plan funds, projects and strategies to build smarter regions and industries,” Binda said. “It’s about connecting the internet of things and all this great technology—but connecting it back to really benefit communities.”
Born in Queens’ Jamaica neighborhood to Guyanese parents, Binda carries with her a commitment to the community in which she was raised. Much of her work in recent years has been focused on the redevelopment of downtown Jamaica.
“My neighborhood, to me, looked dated,” Binda said. “I looked around my own neighborhood and I wanted to make a difference; I wanted to give back.”
Before returning to New York, Binda spent years working in Washington, D.C. , as the deputy director for the U.S. Department of State’s Global Intragovernmental Affairs Division, where she coordinated the inclusion of American mayors and governors in global diplomatic talks.
Yet, even in her travels around the world, Binda’s heart remained in Jamaica.
“I always knew that I wanted to come back to New York and do something in my neighborhood,” Binda explained. “Everywhere I traveled, I compared it to Jamaica. I saw so many things in Jamaica that I thought could be improved. But I always saw a lot of possibility.”
Upon her return to New York, Binda assumed the role of executive director for the Jamaica Center Business Improvement District (BID), which is the largest BID in the borough.
Under her leadership, the Jamaica Center BID organized a campaign for digital literacy in the neighborhood, acquired a $10 million grant to bring broadband to the area via public kiosks, helped modernize local businesses and upgraded the cleaning company charged with the upkeep of Jamaica’s downtown district.
“I think it’s the cleanest shopping district in New York,” Binda said. “We were able to bring national retailers to the neighborhood, so that our residents don’t have to travel to Manhattan or shop online. We got the private sector to invest in the neighborhood after writing it off for so many years.”
Through all the improvements, Binda said, Jamaica was also able to retain its character.
“The majority of the stores that opened were still small businesses,” she explained. “We didn’t have to sacrifice the uniqueness and the character of the neighborhood.”
In 2016, Binda was named as the Queens Chamber of Commerce’s Business Leader of the Year, and during Binda’s time as head of the Jamaica Center BID, Gov. Andrew Cuomo presented Jamaica with the state’s top award for downtown revitalization.
Although Binda didn’t know many other Caribbean people while growing up, she said that in recent years, she has reinvested in her heritage and connected more and more with people of the Guyanese and Caribbean diaspora.
“As more family moved to the U.S., I started to self-identify,” she said. “It’s a vibrant and friendly culture that I embrace and that I’m really proud of.”
Binda currently serves as the vice chairwoman of the New York Guyana Celebration Committee and she’s a founding board member of the Guyanese Girls Rock Foundation—a mentoring program for high school girls.
“I find that there’s a lot of entrepreneurship in the community and women-owned businesses in the community,” Binda said. “It’s a big diaspora here in New York. I’m very proud to be a part of it. It’s nice to see that as a group we’ve made a lot of contributions to the area.”
Reach reporter Sam Rappaport via email at email@example.com or by phone at (718) 357-7400, ext. 123.