The Global Institute on Innovation Districts has been launched with founding support from Drexel University and Lendlease. The Institute is led by Julie Wagner (who serves as President), along with Bruce Katz and Thomas Osha. With requests for support for innovation districts increasing, the Institute will provide a new platform for dedicated research and build a network of districts globally.
The Institute's first area of research will be to conduct detailed empirical analysis of 10 to 12 innovation districts globally. The findings of this research will allow us to develop a more precise definition of innovation districts, including benchmarks of success.
With the launch of the Institute and after four years of research on innovation districts across several global regions, Bruce Katz, Thomas Osha and Julie Wagner have released a new research paper ”The Evolution of Innovation Districts:The New Geography of Global Innovation.” The paper builds on “TheRise of Innovation Districts: A New Geography of Innovation in America,” first releasedin 2014.
”The Evolution of Innovation Districts:The New Geography of Global Innovation” offers detailed analysis on how some of the more successful districts are strengthening their innovation ecosystem using highly strategic and holistic approaches. The paper also delves into the development of governance models, which help districts advance more systemically, aligning visions, resources, and financial capital. Lastly, the paper outlines where the practice is headed—growing far more purposeful in linking inclusion with innovation,a crucial imperative given the widening economic divides facing most cities and nation-states.
June 7, 2019
Julie Wagner, Bruce Katz, and Thomas Osha
The Rise of Innovation Districts, written in 2014, defines innovation districts as “geographic areas where leading-edge anchor-institutions and companies cluster and connect with start-ups, business incubators, and accelerators. They are also physically compact, transit-accessible, and technically wired and offer mixed-use housing, office and retail.” According to Julie Wagner, Bruce Katz, and Thomas Osha, these districts are evolving due to the prevalence and rapid pace of technology. You can read the whole PDF attached here: “The Evolution of Innovation Districts.”
At the moment, the characteristics of a city enable connectivity like never before. The integration of people, corporations, local leaders, and universities brings together new, unique approaches to business, health, and prosperity. It raises important questions on how a city can make change with a variety of resources in short proximity. Innovation districts have specific actors that are pushing them to expand and evolve, including advance research institutions, community workforce development, NGOs., start-ups, developers and major land owners, venture capitalists, entities who work across all sectors, and many more.
This report engages three significant characteristics of innovative and successful districts. First, these districts leverage on the convergence of economic, physical and social assets of a city, which come together “to create new synergies.” When all three are aligned, an “innovation ecosystem” is formed. Many cities miss this critical step: “many aspiring or emerging districts simply do not understand which research and innovation strengths to leverage. Auditing assets in these districts is a useful, if not critical, first step.”
Furthermore, many of these regions have a clear competitive advantage. This advantage is led by how the city uses innovative research to create products and services that bring a variety of beneficial side effects, from improving quality of life on a local scale, to having a positive impact on people and places around the world. This characteristic often comes in the form of a niche or specialization, like biotechnology for example, and displays how an asset can transform into a strategy for success. Although strategic initiatives and collaboration are important, social networks are one of the most crucial aspects for innovation districts. “Buzzing,” connected communities encourage experimentation and gives people a “testing ground for ideas” in firms and markets across all sectors. The key to the buzz is design programming: to introduce a “choreography of ‘spontaneous opportunities’ for smart people to interact with each other.” One physical example of this is to reconfigure buildings internally to empower people to use and transform the space, or, to host open networking events with workshops for technology, culture, and design.
Secondly, these districts have their foundations in strong organizational structures, with strategic governance and financing to boost local entrepreneurial spirit. This lever helps differentiate the district by connecting all its assets using effective and unique financial techniques. This also involves creating a “quality of place” for citizens, a factor that distinguishes the physical space of innovation districts. This second characteristic is invaluable, for it takes national, state, or local government to convene the key actors to create an innovation environment. Leaders are able to make pivotal changes in policy, programs, and finance to support collaboration. One example might be the support of public transportation, which breaks down barriers for many actors in one or connected regional areas.
Finally, the authors believe that innovation districts now have the capability to stand up to complex challenges of economic divides by committing efforts to inclusion and social innovation. Innovation districts have a distinctive ability to give employment opportunities for disadvantaged people to share prosperity through increased tax revenues that can be reinvested into areas in need and offer an influx of ideas to compete against complex challenges of inequality and exclusion. Another unique aspect within this characteristic is the potential to offer citizens access to better education and skill-development programs. Innovation districts must create pathways for people to become employed in the well-paying jobs that the district offers, which is a result of rich economic, social, and physical development.
Innovation hubs offer the surrounding areas a “helping hand” in that increased quality of health-care, education, and economic empowerment gives these districts motivation to tackle issues plaguing suffering areas. For example, an innovative hub in London called Here East shows how these areas have competitive advantage “given clusters of hospitals, health care institutions, and advanced research institutions… [which are] often surrounded by communities that exhibit the highest health disparities in their city and region… Finding new ways to reduce health disparities at scale is a logical area for extensive investment and experimentation.”
The Global Institute’s mission is to help metropolitan regions grow and advance their local and regional economies. Authors Julie Wagner, Bruce Katz, and Thomas Osha asks leaders of these innovation districts to “approach their work with deeper intentionality, place greater emphasis on cross-organizational and structural reforms, and to experiment creatively in approaching all aspects of this work.” Equally, local universities, small and global companies, non-profits, local neighborhood alliances, and all others would be smart to embrace the intertwining synergies of cities as well.