Status Report: the Rise of Innovation Districts

Last year, the "innovation district" rose to prominence as a way to describe urban knowledge economy epicenters. This report from Bruce Katz and Brookings describes how the phenomenon continues to evolve.

2 minute read

July 12, 2015, 1:00 PM PDT

By Philip Rojc @PhilipRojc

Boston innovation district banner with lofts

izzointeractive / flickr

Unlike the suburban office parks associated with tech firms, today's innovation district is central and urbane, boasting an equal spread of MacBook entrepreneurs and baristas. According to this article, there's not a lot to complain about. "The growing application of 'open innovation'—where companies work with other firms, inventors, and researchers to generate new ideas and bring them to market—has revalued proximity, density, and other attributes of cities."

The phenomenon has been quick to spread. "A simple Google search will reveal the extent to which the language of 'innovation districts' (or 'innovation quarters,' 'innovation neighborhoods,' or 'innovation corridors') has rapidly permeated the field of urban and metropolitan economic development and place-making.

Several observations from the article about how innovation districts are evolving:

  • In some cases, the label "innovation district" has been misapplied by regions seeking to drive up demand and attract high-value enterprises. 
  • Innovation districts aren't necessarily yoked to existing knowledge centers, i.e. university campuses. This is a good thing. 
  • Some ostensible innovation centers need to become friendlier to networking. "When designed and programmed well, a district's public spaces facilitate open innovation by offering numerous opportunities to meet, network, and brainstorm [...] districts anchored by medical campuses have significant work ahead."
  • Intermediaries (cultivators, incubators, accelerators) are becoming crucial enablers for collaboration between firms. 
  • Innovation districts must "ensure that nearby neighborhoods and their residents connect to and benefit from new growth opportunities in innovation districts and beyond. Scaling such efforts will be critical in the years to come, as the success of these districts will be defined in large part by their broader city and regional impacts."

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