What is an Innovation District?

“The trend is to nurture living, breathing communities rather than sterile remote compounds of research silos”


A new complementary urban model is emerging – “Innovation Districts”. These districts are geographic areas where leading-edge anchor institutions and companies cluster to connect with start-ups, business incubators and accelerators.[1] They are compact, transit accessible, technically wired and offer mixed-use housing, office, and retail.


Innovation districts alter the location preferences of people and businesses and in the process, re-conceiving the link between economy shaping, place making and social networking.[1]  The most innovative institutions, firms and workers crave proximity to facilitate the sharing of ideas and knowledge seamlessly. Open innovation economies reward collaboration, transforming how buildings and entire districts are designed and spatially arrayed. Our diverse population demands more and better choices of where to live, work and play, fuelling demand for more walkable neighbourhoods where housing, jobs and amenities intermix.


Globally, Barcelona, Berlin, London, Medellin, Montreal, Seoul, Stockholm and Toronto contain examples of evolving districts. In the United States districts are emerging near anchor institutions in cities like Atlanta, Baltimore, Buffalo, Cambridge, Cleveland, Detroit, Houston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and San Diego. They are developing in Boston, Brooklyn, Chicago, Portland, Providence, San Francisco and Seattle where under-utilised areas are being re-imagined and remade. Still others are taking shape in the transformation of traditional ex-urban science parks like Research Triangle Park in Raleigh-Durham which are scrambling to keep pace with the preference of their workers and firms for more urbanised, vibrant communities. Innovation districts have the unique potential to spur productive, inclusive and sustainable economic development.[2]


At a time of plateaued growth Innovation Districts provide a foundation for the creation and expansion of businesses and jobs by helping companies, entrepreneurs, universities, researchers and investors, across sectors and disciplines, co-invent and co-produce new discoveries for the market. An Innovation District such as Australian Education City offers the prospect of expanding employment and educational opportunities for Melbourne’s West and other key locations in Australia.



[1] Select excerpts come from the recent book, The Metropolitan Revolution, co-authored by Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley
[2] Select excerpts from The Rise of Innovation Districts: A New Geography of Innovation in America, co-authored by Bruce Katz and Julie Wagner (Brookings, 2014)

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