Advancing a New Wave of Urban Competitiveness

July 10, 2017

The Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Initiative on Innovation and Placemaking

This handbook offers concrete strategies for mayors and their administrations to facilitate the rise of innovation districts—small geographic areas within cities where research universities, medical institutions, and companies cluster and connect with start-ups, accelerators, and incubators. They reflect profound market and demographic dynamics that are revaluing proximity, density, walkability, and accessibility—in other words, the natural strengths of cities.
Innovation districts are emerging in the downtowns and midtowns of cities like Atlanta, Cambridge, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis, where advanced research universities, medical complexes, and clusters of tech and creative firms are sparking business expansion as well as residential and commercial growth. They can be found in cities like Little Rock, Ark., New Bedford, Mass., and Chattanooga, Tenn., where other types of anchors, such as utilities and cultural institutions, are collaborating with universities to stimulate innovation activity. They can also take the shape of emerging tech hubs, which are growing in older city cores and along waterfronts in Boston, Detroit, Los Angeles, and Providence, R.I., to take advantage of lower land prices or authentically “gritty” building stocks.
U.S. mayors have an instrumental role to play in the growth and evolution of innovation districts—a role that will likely evolve over time. Mayors can serve as conveners, providing a venue and platform for the development of a collective vision on the 21st-century imperative: collaborate to compete. Drawing on their skills as leaders, mayors can be champions by offering a vision for growing a successful innovation economy. Drawing on their regulatory powers, mayors can be catalysts by devising new tools or streamlining old rules to incentivize district growth.
This handbook offers city leaders a way forward.

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