Innovation Districts: For What and For Whom?

Authors: Joshua Drucker*, University of Illinois At Chicago, Carla Maria Kayanan, University of Michigan, Henry Renski, University of Massachusetts
Topics: Economic Geography, Urban and Regional Planning, Urban Geography
Keywords: economic development, innovation, urban, revitalization, investment
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 5:00 PM / 6:40 PM
Room: Maryland C, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Innovation districts are a “hot topic” in economic and urban development (Katz, Vey, & Wagner, 2015; Katz & Wagner, 2014). Typically located in cities, these alluring live-and-work playgrounds concentrate actors, amenities, and resources in a targeted area to provide an environment conducive to innovation. The idea that a thriving innovation district can assist in the transition toward an innovation-based economy while also creating a vibrant neighborhood has contributed to the rapid and widespread adoption of the strategy.

However, a failed innovation district wastes resources and even an otherwise successful district can cause the displacement of residents. The potential economic benefits of the innovation district often take center stage, particularly in cities with waning traditional industry strengths and in which urban actors turn to innovation districts to grow the tax base and boost the legitimacy of the city as a viable place for investment. In cities with an already robust entrepreneurial ecosystem, promoters can latch onto the innovation district as a way for established companies to gain proximity to urban residents and amenities rather than as a support for startups and creativity.

Considering the multiple and possibly competing objectives of innovation districts, and the mix of public and private actors that champion them, we ask: What are the goals of innovation districts? How may innovation districts be designed to achieve these aims? Our answers are based on findings from a comparative analysis of four in-depth case studies: Boston, Detroit, San Diego, and St. Louis.

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