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A Rise of Innovation Districts: A New Geography of Innovation in America

As the United States slowly emerges from the Great Recession, a remarkable shift is occurring in the spatial geography of innovation. For the past 50 years, the landscape of innovation has been dominated by places like Silicon Valley—suburban corridors of spatially isolated corporate campuses, accessible only by car, with little emphasis on the quality of life or on integrating work, housing and recreation, stated in Brookings recent report on innovation districts.

Apparently, the “innovation districts” is a new emerging contemporary urban model, and these geographical areas are leading-edge anchor institutions and companies cluster and connect with start-ups, business incubators and accelerators. What’s more, they are the manifestation of mega-trends altering the location preferences of people and firms and, in the process, re-conceiving the very link between economy shaping, place making and social networking. In a listing of these innovation districts, we could see some familiar cities in doing innovation such as Berlin, Seoul, etc.

According to the “innovation districts” report, innovation districts have the unique potential to spur productive, inclusive and sustainable economic development. This is because of their brilliant form and function. It points out that all innovation districts contain economic, physical, and networking assets.


Based on the form, innovation districts are spread in three models geographically.

The “anchor plus” model

The “anchor plus” model

It primarily found in the downtowns and mid-towns of central cities, is where large scale mixed-use development is centered around major anchor institutions and a rich base of related firms, entrepreneurs and spin-off companies involved in the commercialization of innovation.

The “re-imagined urban areas” model

The “re-imagined urban areas” model

It often found near or along historic waterfronts, is where industrial or warehouse districts are undergoing a physical and economic transformation.

The “urbanized science park” model

The “urbanized science park” model

It commonly found in suburban and exurban areas, is where traditionally isolated, sprawling areas of innovation are urbanizing through increased density and an infusion of new activities (including retail and restaurants) that are mixed as opposed to separated.

Early in 2009, a report has already been published entitled The Geography of Innovation: The Federal Government and the Growth of Regional Innovation Clusters. It shows how significant the innovation of its region is for public policy makers.

To read the full report, please visit here.

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