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Innovation Districts: Reshaping Our Cities, Changing Our Economies

The rise of the “innovation district.” Everybody now wants that neighborhood dense with coffee shops, capital and talent. We’ll look at what really works.

In this file photo, officials, including from left Vulcan real estate vice president Ada Healey, Gov. Chris Gregoire, Mayor Greg Nickels, City Councilmember Jan Drago and Capitol Hill Housing executive director Christopher Persons, toss shovels of sand in a ceremonial ground breaking for new Amazon.com headquarters Monday, April 20, 2009, in Seattle. The new headquarters now includes 11 buildings on six blocks in the heart of Seattle's South Lake Union neighborhood. (AP

In this file photo, officials, including from left Vulcan real estate vice president Ada Healey, Gov. Chris Gregoire, Mayor Greg Nickels, City Councilmember Jan Drago and Capitol Hill Housing executive director Christopher Persons, toss shovels of sand in a ceremonial ground breaking for new Amazon.com headquarters Monday, April 20, 2009, in Seattle. The new headquarters now includes 11 buildings on six blocks in the heart of Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood. (AP)

Every city planner wants an “innovation district” these days.  That hot, hip, high-tech neighborhood where coffee shops and capital and talent churn together to turn out new businesses and economic growth.  They’re in Barcelona and Berlin, Seoul and Stockholm.  They’re up or coming in Boston, Seattle, St. Louis, Philadelphia,  Atlanta, Cleveland – all over.  Everybody wants their own urban Silicon Valley.  Well, almost everybody.  There’s pushback, too.  And a hot debate right now on the innovation bandwagon itself.  This hourOn Point:  innovation districts in America.

– Tom Ashbrook

Guests

Bruce Katz, vice president of the Brookings Institution and  founding director of the Brookings’ Metropolitan Policy Program. Co-author of “The Metropolitan Revolution.” (@bruce_katz)

John Summers, editor in chief of The Baffler. Editor of “The Politics of Truth: Selected Writings of C. Wright Mills,” “Masscult and Midcult: Essays Against the American Grain,” “Cotton Tenants: Three Families” and “No Future for You: Salvos from The Baffler.”

Dennis Lower, president and CEO of St. Louis’ Cortext Innovation Community.

From Tom’s Reading List

Brookings: The Rise of Innovation Districts: A New Geography of Innovation in America — “A new complementary urban model is now emerging, giving rise to what we and others are calling ‘innovation districts.’ These districts, by our definition, are geographic areas where leading-edge anchor institutions and companies cluster and connect with start-ups, business incubators and accelerators. They are also physically compact, transit-accessible, and technically-wired and offer mixed-use housing, office, and retail. Innovation districts 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.”

Next City: The ‘Choreography of Collisions’ That Makes Innovation Districts Tick — “Vulcan Real Estate, a company owned by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, spearheaded the transformation. In the aftermath of a failed referendum to approve a public park, Vulcan began to assemble distressed properties in the area. In the early 2000s, it persuaded the University of Washington to locate its medical and bioscience campus in SLU.”

The Baffler: The People’s Republic of Zuckerstan — “It’s a neat utopia: an entire economy rigged to a framework of intellectual capital, from PhD to patent, with a startup model of rapid development taking hold of cities like Austin, Berkeley, Boulder, Las Vegas, Raleigh, and Seattle. Still, it was a Boston-area small business that successfully petitioned the White House to declare the first-ever ‘National Entrepreneurs’ Day’ in 2010.”

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  • OK

    Boston’s “Innovation” District: Over-priced and over-hyped.
    We are a small technology company that moved from the “Innovation” District to East Boston just last week. On rent alone we are saving more than enough to hire another engineer or sales person. Rents of $30+/sq. ft. are too high for a start-up. Parking fees of $150-200/month per employee is a real burden. Not every innovative company consists of 20-somethings who ride their bikes or skateboards to work, or live in a micro-apartment in the “Innovation” District. The “Innovation” District is likely to become more congested and parking even harder to come by – and small, innovative companies will have to find other locations. Will we see a real-estate lead “boom” in condos and funky warehouse office space force true innovators back to the suburbs?

    • J__o__h__n

      Agreed. The innovation district is cut off from the downtown and the public transportation doesn’t have enough capacity at evening rush hour. When it is nice out I walk across the bridge, but when it snows . . . I hear people complaining about lack of parking. All of the buildings are bland and corporate looking. No innovation there! Much of it is just office space for not particularly innovative businesses (not that encouraging accounting firms to become innovative isn’t problematic).

      • Tequila_Mckngbrd

        There’s no innovation here, that’s for sure. They just want the public to perceive that innovation is going on. When a company hires VP’s equal the amount of engineers, but paying them 4 times what the engineers make, you’re not going to make anything innovative. You’re just marketing the company for higher valuation.

        • methos1999

          It’s scary how true that is. Particularly when the titles sound grandiose.

    • Human2013

      Welcome to the United States of finance. This is the Financier’s world and we’re just lucky to be a part of it.

  • James P McNamara

    Innovation Districts when combined with employer driven workforce development, small business engagement, affordable housing, public transit, sustainably built environment, expanding research collaborations, technology commercialization and advanced manufacturing are critical to the development of the Knowledge Economy that will allow for the outflow of economic growth for all citizens.

    • adks12020

      That statement reads like you took it verbatim from an advertisement put out by the developer of one of these districts…just sayin’

      • The poster formerly known as t

        There’s a lot of multi-syllable words in James P McNamara’s post but they don’t convey anything. This is what, I think many colleges and the Knowledge Economy is creating these days, a lot of meaningless jargon-speech that sounds more intelligent than it really is. It’s fundamentally b.s.

    • pszabo

      That might be true, but that is one tall order.

  • http://hlb-engineering.us/ HLB

    At public shovel ceremonies, do they issue instructions for tossing dirt?

    Most of these wankers have never held a hard work, blue collar job. How do they know what a shovel does? Or how to use one?

  • Georgia

    It’s this just gentrification? Three years ago I was priced out of Jersey City after living there for only 4 years. I returned this year to find many old, local businesses replaced with overly designed coffee shops, brew pubs, and self-serve froyo.

    • The poster formerly known as t

      Some of those overly designed coffee shops may be staffed by people who are living their with financial help from their well-heeled parents while pretending otherwise. They all aren’t living with 4-6 people in one apartment.

  • http://hlb-engineering.us/ HLB

    Innovation District. Wowser.

    Does it reduce the cost of energy supplies? Does it abate the pumping of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere? Does it provide high-paying jobs for high-worth high school & college graduates? Does it get the local roads paved that much faster? Does the garbage get picked up off the streets at a lower cost and a greater speed? Do the pipes in the ground get repaired and replaced in a more timely and efficient manner?

    Because the heavy lifting of everyday Oz is done by the mass of working grunts. Not the offspring of the Clintons, Obamas, Romneys, and Ashbrooks. Alas: the world is worked by the workers. Not by the minglers. Because the minglers don’t DO anything really useful.

    Sorry to rain on the Happiness Parade.

    • The poster formerly known as t

      The education system, and the wider society, has programmed people to avoid “hard work” because it is looked down upon, and instead to aspire to be a manager (manipulator) or a mingler (someone who gets paid to socialize and juz hang out). This might be the natural effect of the U.S. giving up manufacturing and focusing on “financial services”…which looks like tricking other countries into sending the U.S. stuff for dollar bills of dubious value.

  • Fiscally_Responsible

    I think that the Washington DC Innovation District can take the lead in furthering their expertise in pork production.

    • http://hlb-engineering.us/ HLB

      Sooey! Hoober Doober

  • johnhaskell

    Most STEM fields can be filled by people w/ sub-BA degrees? The STEM-skills gap folks are not going to be happy that their narrative can be defeated with, you know, data.

    • The poster formerly known as t

      A lot of the STEM-skills gap literature has been pushed by corporations who want to bring down labor costs for “skilled labor”, not necessarily to meet demand.

  • J__o__h__n

    What moderate income housing in cities with innovation districts?

  • johnhaskell

    Net loss of jobs? Poaching jobs from other areas is not creating jobs. This is the biggest myth of tax incentive driven development projects.

    • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

      Tax incentives and other such malarkey is another name for “race to the bottom”.

      Lack of regulation leads to abuse and pollution and long term damage.

  • Jim

    Do we need little silicone valleys in US cities? Yes, if you want to end the livelihood of the middle and working class people.

    • Godzilla the Intellectual

      You would rather have only the coastal municipalities be rich?

      • Jim

        Non coastal cities such as Austin and vegas are rich. So the question is not a matter of discriminating against different cities.

        • Godzilla the Intellectual

          Fair enough.

          Let me rephrase my question. Would you rather only the CURRENT silicon valley’s, so to speak, be rich???

    • hennorama

      Jim — thank you for adding to the list of Typos/Freudian Slips/Autocorrections That Make Me Smile:

      “little silicone valleys” vs. little Silicon Valleys

      Brings artificial décolletage to mind.

      Thanks again.

      • Jim

        You’re welcome. It sounds like we were heading for that direction. Therefore, I harmlessly added the e for the spirit of the hollywood industry in California.

        • hennorama

          Jim — thank you for your response.

          The typo was indeed harmless, but it did make me smile.

  • Godzilla the Intellectual

    Why is this topic being discussed as if it is a choice? It isn’t.

    1. Business has already decided this is what it wants.

    2. If municipalities DON’T go this way, they will be losing out to other cities who do. This may be a political choice, but the millenials don’t realize it. All they know is they want easy access to the things they like, and public transportation to get there. One factor in this is high speed fiberoptic internet. Municipalities that DON’T put in high speed networks will literally be at a business disadvantage in buying and selling transactions, because the high speed network users will be able to “outbid” faster.

  • Godzilla the Intellectual

    What is John Summers point?????

  • Kristin Robinson

    Innovation districts sound like a great idea to reinvigorate an urban area, but for whom? The people currently living there will be pushed out because of rising housing prices, and I doubt that many of the current residents will be the people who get the jobs created.

    • Godzilla the Intellectual

      You would rather only the coastal municipalities with existing innovation districts be rich? That is what will happen if cities don’t do this. Millennials move to places they like.

    • hennorama

      Kristin Robinson — Twas ever thus.

    • The poster formerly known as t

      Maybe the assumption is that the people currently living there can just “go back to school” and learn “in demand” skills that will allow them to stay in the neighborhood.

  • J__o__h__n

    Kendall Square developed organically around MIT. The Seaport Innovation District is an office park without parking.

  • Matt MC

    Private Business: “Hey, Public Sector, how about giving us some money for stuff we do anyway?”

    Public Sector: “Hey, sure! Will we get any of the profits?”

    Private Business: “Nah!”

    Public Sector: “Well, hum dum do, here’s $1,000,000,000.00!”

  • cof

    It’s smoke and mirror marketing… ‘onramp’ ‘innovative’ ‘new tool’ ‘new focus’ ‘mingle’ the buzz words are ENDLESS…and should be red flags to BS

  • pszabo

    late to the conversation, but the lists of smartest and most progressive metropolitan centers often coincide with college communities. why not provide more centers for free learning and share knowledge with more people?

    • The poster formerly known as t

      The smartest and well-placed people are already in college. What you’re encouraging will ultimately end up being more degree mills because there is no such thing as free education in the U.S.A., unless it is self education but that takes initiative on the part of the student.

      • pszabo

        The term “degree mills” usually refers to online for-profit institutions which allow for very little interactivity with students and experts. My comment was not very specific and, while I agree with your sentiment of disdain for hollow certifications, I am confused and somewhat affronted by your immediate classification of free education centers as such.

        Conversely, I believe that education and apprenticeship programs must be made attractive and alluring so that participants attend of their own initiative. And I would go further to suggest that these programs not offer degrees or certificates, with individual projects completed, accomplishments, and the knowledge gained during the participation taking the place of a laser-printed linen-paper diploma.

        • The poster formerly known as t

          ” I would go further to suggest that these programs not offer degrees or certificates, with individual projects completed, accomplishments, and the knowledge gained during the participation taking the place of a laser-printed linen-paper diploma.”
          That’s the way things were in the U.S. prior to WWII–the G.I. bill and the educational industrial( complex the G.I. bill helped create. I’m not sure how we would get back there with so many people brainwashed by the status quo possibly because the status quo is how they earn their living–as a teacher, and educational administrator, or someone who directly benefits from delinquent student loan borrowers.

  • J__o__h__n

    I have been listening via the Vermont NPR website rather than WBUR’s as I have had problems with it this week and I like that that station mentions the next day’s topics at the end of the show. Why can’t WBUR promote its own flagship show the same way?

    • hennorama

      It’s not exactly intuitive, but the Ways to Listen page at the upper left says the following:

      Find out what’s coming up on tomorrow’s shows in your email:

      • Sign up by entering your e-mail address on this page. Then select “WBUR Tomorrow” from our list of newsletters.

      Or, simply go here, directly:

      http://www.wbur.org/updates

      • J__o__h__n

        Thanks, I already get that but I’d rather know at the end of the show than when I’m trying to leave work at 5:00.

  • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

    If the stock market was actually being used as it should be – it would reward innovation and productivity. As it is now, it rewards those who are playing the numbers.

    Buy a stock, and you have to keep it for at least 24 hours – and watch the stocks with *real* value* reward innovative and productive businesses.

    • AC

      i’m in agreement – a lot of the old timers in my office complain we’re now run by lawyers and HR people who are so risk averse, innovation goes out the door….
      the real developing companies stay locked up far away with 10 levels of security to get through. not sure what this convo really is about….

  • henrietta11

    It seems that “innovation District” has become a euphemism for Social Darwinism and a justification for displacement of people and raiding public funds.

  • Carla

    Top-down initiatives are very hard to get right. Organic is better. Disliked John Summers viewpoint very much. Pretty sure he’s not the future.

  • JohnThomas52

    Innovation is not likely to take off in a rust belt city like St. Louis just because it is an old and stodgy city where the old farts don’t embrace innovation, diversity (non-white people), new ways of thinking, and progress. It’s an unattractive and unfriendly city for young innovators and I do not recommend that young folks put down roots in this high crime town. St. Louis has a large senior population so in about a decade, there will be vast numbers of people gone. The population will decrease significantly and it will look a lot more like Detroit (though people won’t admit to this fact). There will be more dyers (people who die) than there will be home buyers. A lot of the housing stock is old (just like its people) and it will be very expensive to rehab. If you are a “cheap bastard”, then this is the town for you but beware: there will be a housing crash in 2020 as the vast baby boomer population start to leave their homes. I strongly advise young people not to buy property in St. Louis because they will lose equity. The powers-that-be may try to pull a fast one over an unsuspecting young person but be forewarned. It’s cheap to live in St. Louis but the schools are struggling with accreditation and the population is largely poor. It is a low skill and low education population that will not attract start up companies or international companies. I can easily see how St. Louis can fall to the wayside as the knowledge economy passes this backward city by.

    44% of the population is Black but you wouldn’t know it because of segregation. It is the #1 segregated city in the US. If you have a chance, take a look at this 5 minute BBC video (may take a minute for video to pull up):

    http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-17361995

    If you have more time, then take a look at this documentary film trailer or just find the film and watch it. It explains a lot about the racial history of St. Louis in terms of public housing:
    http://www.pruitt-igoe.com

    There’s a more recent documentary film, called “Spanish Lake”. It gives the ugly tale of white flight and how today this community is trashed out:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/umar-lee/spanish-lake_b_5507408.html

    Let the outsider be warned about St. Louis. Let the buyer beware.

    • Adam

      John, I see you’ve now taken to copying and pasting your diatribes from the local STL blogs onto national ones. If you hate STL so much, why don’t you go somewhere else? God knows the city has enough detractors like yourself. (I wonder if armchair detractors promote or hinder progress. Hmmm…) Think of all the time you’d save not being compelled to type out the same grievances over and over and over and over and over… You might also consider how scaring people away doesn’t help to mitigate any of the issues you complain about incessantly.

      By the way, the BBC story doesn’t say that St. Louis is the most segregated city in the US, as you claim. And Spanish Lake isn’t part of the city; it’s a suburb.

      • JohnThomas52

        My purpose is to inform and educate people who may not be familiar with St. Louis. I can respect differences in opinions, ideas, and points of view. You may not like or agree with my particular perspective, opinions, and ideas but I am still allowed to express and share them for the benefit of the public good.

        For outsiders, here are some relevant pieces of information on what you need to know about St. Louis, which may not have been mentioned. Information is power so I empower you. You, of course, are free to access any particular information on your own or see Adam for an alternative viewpoint about St. Louis:

        St. Louis ranks in the top 10 for vacant/abandoned homes in the entire US: http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2014/07/13/cities-most-abandoned-homes/12536257/

        STL is trending toward a low-wage city. 90% of all new jobs created since the recession are low wage jobs (lots of fast food workers). Once those fast food jobs are automated, there will be vast unemployment in this city and heavy reliance on public assistance.
        http://onpoint.wbur.org/2013/09/26/booming-or-busting

        St. Louis county poverty grew by 75% in 12 years (2000-2012). Both the city and county of St. Louis represent 50% of the metro population.http://video.ketc.org/video/2365257635/

        St. Louis ranks in the top 10 for fastest greying metro area. Large senior population so a big generational fallout will happen over 5-10 years so avoid living in a neighborhood where more than half your neighbors will die. http://www.forbes.com/pictures/edgl45ejll/no-10-st-louis-mo-il/

        You can look up accreditation scores for school districts like St. Louis public schools. It’s not good but I’ll let you be surprised on what you find on this one.

        You can always look at the actual crime reports to get a sense of crime in a particular area. St. Louis has made it on the list for the most dangerous cities. Read the online newspaper to see what is happening as well in terms of particular types of crimes.
        http://blogs.riverfronttimes.com/dailyrft/2014/02/st_louis_named_no_5_most_dange.php

        If you still want to start a business in STL, then please do so. The above are the areas that need some work. I’m sure you are coming to fix the problems of our city rather than just take resources for self gain of your business and to not give a care about the city. You will make St. Louis better than how you found it. The city will benefit from your presence and active involvement in the community. Be sure to get to know your neighbors, particularly Black folk. Welcome and I’ll meet you in St. Louis.

        • Adam

          “My purpose is to inform and educate people who may not be familiar with St. Louis.”

          To what end? To chase them away? Why don’t you try balancing your incessant negativity with some positive observations once in a while? By all means, continue to offer your bitter, one-sided perspective as “education”. I’m sure it will do wonders to alleviate all the issues you love to complain about. You know what they say: if you’re not part of the solution… St. Louisans are the city’s own worst enemy.

          • JohnThomas52

            STL has a racial past that people need to know about. Most young people today, perhaps some of your beloved “young innovators”, do not even think that racial discrimination exists, past as of 1964 or present. Young people are ignorant as to why St. Louis is a checker board in terms of our neighborhood layout and are not aware of what redlining, steering, refuse to serve, white flight, etc. . . They lack awareness, depth of perception, and exposure to diverse peoples and their experiences. It is very scary to think that “young innovators” are going to come to St. Louis and have little or no knowledge about our struggling communities, particularly Black ones, that tend to be racially isolated. You should not come to St. Louis unless you are aware and care.

            Here’s a snippet of 2008 racial history (Meacham Park is a Black community of residents that falls within the larger, predominantly white community of Kirkwood). On the positive, there’s now a Human Rights Commission established in Kirkwood.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kirkwood_City_Council_shooting

            I’m sure that “young innovators” who care about St. Louis will come. The opportunities to help our city/county/region are great.

    • Cleveland_Jake

      While Cleveland, OH still has its issues, there are some really good things happening in the city proper.

      They have done a good job of keeping young talent here and many of them have chosen to live downtown as well as opposed in the sprawling suburbs.

  • nolarkinsley

    Peyton . true that Jessica `s blurb is shocking, last
    monday I got a gorgeous Peugeot 205 GTi after having earned $6860 this past 4
    weeks an would you believe ten-k this past-month . with-out a doubt this is the
    easiest-job I’ve ever had . I actually started six months/ago and pretty much
    immediately started to bring in minimum $84… p/h . Read More Here C­a­s­h­f­i­g­.­C­O­M­

  • AC

    of course i love the old timers. they were lucky. back in the days when you were free to create, even if it sometimes took duct tape (that’s an inside engineering joke)…..

  • Godzilla the Intellectual

    So your point is since your city had poor city planning, no city can have good city planning???

    I’m not following your logic.

  • Godzilla the Intellectual

    Isn’t that what government is? (I mean, throughout history.)

    • FrankensteinDragon

      no

      • Godzilla the Intellectual

        I think you mean, “yes.” It’s an easy mistake, being a binary.

  • FrankensteinDragon

    Innovation district is doublespeak for gentrification–get those pesky poor non-whites out of that neighborhood now! Its a lot like an exclusionary act.

  • JohnThomas52

    St. Louis does not have a vibrant technology community and I would not want young people to be a part of it. You don’t have to work in IT to see it. Most of the “innovation” is not that great. It does not take much brains to look at some of these companies and their products to see that they won’t have legs to stand on in about 5 years. The innovation is just not here, despite the hype. Just look at behavior. You should look at the faces of Chief Tech Officers from Silicon Valley and about their expansion plans for future office locations in the midwest and St. Louis is definitely NOT on the list. There’s not much interest for office location expansions here. Again, no vibrancy.

    Most young people do not choose to live and work in a dying rust belt city such as St. Louis. Nobody I know grows up with the dream to live in a rust belt city. Most young, native St. Louisans tend to move out and never come back. It’s not at all rationale for outsiders to come here. Most young innovators are white innovators. Our city is 51% Black majority–not a good fit because most whites do not like Blacks. They need to go where they can find better success for their business and future family and can be a part of the white majority so that they feel comfortable (or just don’t have to face “fear of the city”, which is code for fear of Blacks). If young, white innovators feel otherwise, then I’m sure they will come and be a part of the Black communities in St. Louis.

    In terms of vanishing population, St. Louis county has 15% of its population known as the “silent generation” (ahead of the baby boomers). Then, we have the baby boomers, which represent 28%. Together, these 2 generations add up to 43% of the population. In about 10-20 years, you will see a good, say 30%, of the 43% of the population die out and be gone from St. Louis county. It will be a suburban slum with a lot of zombie foreclosures in the sprawling neighborhoods. People will lose equity. This matters because most young people tend to live and raise their families in the county and not the city, though they may work in the city. Not a good situation to be in for young people.

    “The worst-case scenario is a shrinking central city and a shrinking region with an overall population decline, coupled with continued central city abandonment and continued outward expansion. In a region like this, there is not only more costly “stuff” (redundant public services and physical infrastructure) than there needs to be, but there is more “stuff” with ever fewer taxpayers to pay for it.”

    http://www.newgeography.com/content/004431-a-tale-273-cities

    It’s cheap now to live in St. Louis but just wait when everybody’s property values fall with the baby boomer generational dying out and taxes are increased to shore up the difference in revenue collection. Same for utilities. What looks cheap and a really good deal now may not be in 10 years. Again, let the buyer beware. It could be a dicey situation.

  • JohnThomas52

    Here’s a recent news report by KMOV, showing that St. Louis gets a “C’ grade for starting small businesses. It is also very hard to find work in St. Louis at any age, young or old. Lots of unemployed, older people. Better for young people to start their career as entrepreneurs in Colorado Springs, Boise, Houston, Austin or Louisville. Older people in STL should look for job opportunities in other cities as well.

    http://www.kmov.com/news/business/Survey-ranks-the-best-cities-for-small-business–268111122.html

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