Innovation Neighborhoods: An Inclusive Economic Development Parallel to Innovation Districts

Innovation neighborhoods function at the center of community life and are therefore organically inclusive in nature.

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When innovation districts and innovation neighborhoods are thoughtfully aligned, cities can expect more inclusiveness, educational opportunity and socioeconomic impact.

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In innovation neighborhoods, small businesses and tech startups mingle to create a unique sense of place and strong community. (Getty Images)

This is a guest post by David Sandel.

In the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program report “The Rise of Innovation Districts: A New Geography of Innovation in America,” the authors describe an emerging urban model called “innovation districts.”

As described in the report, “these districts, by our definition, are geographic areas where leading-edge anchor institutions and companies cluster and connect with startups, business incubators and accelerators. They are also physically compact, transit-accessible and technically-wired, and offer mixed-use housing, office and retail.” These innovation districts also tend to be “where underutilized areas (particularly older industrial areas) are being re-imagined and remade.”

Because innovation districts generally appeal to people or organizations familiar with a university or institutional setting, they can be somewhat of an exclusive club utilized by persons of a higher educational or socioeconomic status.

Certainty, having institutionally-oriented innovation districts is of great value. They can create high-value jobs, accelerate the development of new companies, and attract public- and private-sector investment. However, given their cultural and socioeconomic dynamic, institutionally-led innovation districts can only capture a specific portion of a city’s innovation market capacity.

What is important for a city to understand about this dynamic?

For a city to maximize its socioeconomic output in the new economy, the city or region has to engage the greatest depth of its innovation market capacity. Implementing new forms of inclusion are central to achieving greater socioeconomic impact.

This leads us to a new vision for innovation neighborhoods.

Innovation neighborhoods function at the center of community life and are therefore organically inclusive in nature. They are neighborhoods that have a unique sense of place and are capable of attracting a diverse creative community that welcomes all comers, regardless of education level or socioeconomic class. Innovation neighborhoods thrive on talent without focusing on how it arrives.

For an innovation neighborhood to thrive, a deep understanding of the neighborhood – and its sense of place, socioeconomic potential, infrastructure and entrepreneurial ecosystem – is essential. When innovation districts and innovation neighborhoods are thoughtfully aligned, cities can expect more inclusiveness, educational opportunity and socioeconomic impact.

Want to learn more? Last year, NLC released a comprehensive report on innovation districts, highlighting the progress made in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and in this blog post, Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke tells the story of how his city became a hotbed for entrepreneurship and innovation.

David_Sandel_125x150 About the author: David Sandel is the lead author for the St. Louis chapter in Smart Economy in Smart Cities, the president of Sandel & Associates and the founder of iNeighborhoods.