Why Innovation Districts Matter

Municipalities are supporting the rise of innovation districts to spur economic growth and stability

What Happened?

In the aftermath of the recession, cities across the country are building strong foundations to support institutions and modern companies that collaborate with startups and entrepreneurs to spur growth and new ideas. These innovation districts are being integrated into the urban landscape, rather than stand alone on tech campuses or suburban research silos.

What Is An Innovation District

According to the Brookings Institute, innovation districts are “geographic areas where anchor research institutions and thriving businesses take root and connect with startups, business incubators and accelerators.” The districts are compact, dense and easily accessible via public transit. Those involved in the districts are typically technically-wired and interspersed between mixed-use housing developments and retail space.

The Brookings Institute’s latest study on innovation districts revealed them popping up in major metropolitan areas across the country. Not only do innovation districts create a link between research, business and entrepreneurs, but also spur productivity, sustainable economic development and collaboration. They enable researchers, companies and startups to share resources and inspiration to produce more discoveries in numerous markets.

What They Offer

Not only do innovation districts encourage new ideas in business, but also public services and facilities to accommodate the new population – such as bike lanes and kickstarter campaigns. Innovation districts are defined by their economic, physical and networking assets that, when combined, accelerate commercialization and idea growth:
  • Economic assets: Firms, institutions and organizations that are innovation drivers, cultivators or neighborhood-building amenities
  • Physical assets: Public or private pen spaces, infrastructure or streets designed to stimulate connectivity and growth
  • Networking assets: Relationships between individuals, firms and institutions to accelerate idea growth and cross-industry collaboration

Unlike tech hubs of the past, innovation districts are strategically located in dense, urban settings with a variety of access points via public or personal transportation. Major cities nurturing innovation districts are investing in dense urbanization that combine mixed-use housing with commercial and retail space in a distinct district.

How To Build One

The Brookings Institute report identified five best practices for municipalities interested in growing an innovation district:
  1. Build a collaborative leadership network Look to leaders from institutions, firms and influential sectors to create a collaborative environment between research, business and government.
  2. Set a vision for growth Set growth goals with best practices for the short, medium and long term, clearing defining economic, physical and social dimensions. Play off the unique strengths of the players involved.
  3. Pursue talent and technology Attract and retain talent by integrating technology with innovative organizations and sustainable amenities.
  4. Promote inclusive growth Use the innovation district to promote growth and advancement in nearby neighborhoods with special consideration for low-income residents, education opportunities and jobs growth to support the district.
  5. Enhance access to capital Support research, commercialization, urbanization, education, entrepreneurialism and training facilities with financial support in the short and long term.

Several major cities such as Boston and Seattle have reported significant success in growing innovation districts, which go beyond technology startups and support projects such as urban farming and clean energy.

Modern Innovation

Gov1 has reported on a variety of business initiatives that support entrepreneurialism and attract a new breed of economic growth .

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