Competitive placemaking in the knowledge economy: The case of innovation districts

Authors: Patrick Kilfoil*, McGill University
Topics: Urban Geography, Urban and Regional Planning, Economic Geography
Keywords: Innovation districts, placemaking, urban competitiveness, urban policy, urban planning
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Palladian, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In recent decades, innovation has been positioned as one of the key factors to explain differences in economic development between territories, particularly at the urban scale. As a result, several forms of policy intervention have been attempted to help foster urban innovation and enhance city competitiveness. However, the relation between urban settings and innovation is often assumed rather than tested empirically (Shearmur 2012). One such increasingly popular policy is the innovation district urban development model (Katz and Wagner 2014). Innovation districts are inner-city revitalization strategies that seek to assemble sufficient density and diversity of activities to foster innovation in a single neighborhood that symbolizes a city’s innovative capacity and economic prosperity (Leon 2008). Whether a real estate strategy can truly shift innovation dynamics in cities remains an open question. Using semi-structured interviews conducted in 2018 with government officials, economic developers, entrepreneurs, and real estate developers, as well as a review of relevant policy documents, this study examines three cases of innovation districts in Montreal, Toronto and Philadelphia. While each case has its own specificities, we find that the innovation district model is best understood as a multi-faceted discourse pertaining to innovation processes, real estate development, and public realm upgrading rather than a set of precise policy measures. More precisely, the placemaking strategies through which these spaces are created are premised upon the construction of new spatial imaginaries that rely on unsubstantiated claims regarding the urban nature of innovation and local capacity to enhance urban competitiveness in a globalized economy.

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