Innovation Districts for the Rest of Us


  • The knowledge base and skill sets of planners with a better understanding of the various aspects of innovation and ways to better connect it with the city / regional workforce, physical assets and the larger economy to create a more sustainable and impactful program
  • The opportunities and challenges of innovation as a “place” strategy including the role of “opportunity” for mid-level talent, economic equity for the community as a whole, finding a balance between anchors and startups, the role of business models and more
  • New tools designed to address community equity as a part of innovation district planning


Innovation Districts are the latest buzz word in urban planning and redevelopment. The search for the unicorn (in venture capital parlance, the $1billion start up valuation; in an economic development context, the next Amazon) has become top of mind for planners and development officials seeking to spur redevelopment. Typically, major innovation hubs such as Boston/Cambridge or Silicon Valley are used as the measurement – a standard most communities will never reach on such a broad scale. Moreover, much of the discussion and activity regarding these types of centers and districts is largely focused on real estate creation. However, in practice, innovation districts are really “products” representing the intersection of physical assets, talent pull, idea generation, and vibe. And these “products” are increasingly competing with each other for scarce capital investment and talent to drive them forward.  The real question for planners is how to become a destination community for talent and investment. Today branding an innovation district is simply not enough.

The inspiration for this proposal has come from years of corporate strategy and economic development consulting. The speakers for this course have worked on urban and rural regeneration development strategies and have found that many cities allocate their limited resources towards the real estate or placemaking but miss the issues of talent, business model design and linkage to the regional economy. This course will focus on understanding, and responding to, the complexities of innovation center development by looking at the economic, talent and land factors that determine investment.