545wyn, Miami
545wyn, Miami

4 Key Insights Shaping the Future of Innovation Districts

This blog is part of a series on innovation districts.

Cities and developers are interested in innovation districts broadly as a development prototype because they differentiate downtowns and appeal to investors. Although innovation districts continue to gain popularity as a means for cities to compete, there are serious barriers to entry, such as cost, connection to investors, and a lack of an anchor tenant or lack of workforce. Not every city can attract an innovation hub in the traditional sense. And there are a lot of misperceptions about what innovation districts are and how they function.

What are the core fundamentals of how innovation districts work, and how is the industry changing as a result of COVID and market dynamics?

I spoke with several market consultants and developers working in the innovation district practice about these key questions and more. Here are four key insights gleaned from those discussions into the future of innovation districts:

1. Cities are focused on becoming more innovative as a way to compete.

What began almost 20 years ago, and continues today, is a war of regions and their cities to attract talent. Now more than ever, there is a focus on public space and amenities that bring people together. Cities can leverage what the region is already good at by combining key partnerships, people, and places that make people collaborate better.

2. Key elements of innovation districts are changing in response to market shifts.

While the need for educational, tech, and biotech anchors are still key drivers, there are changes in how innovation districts function, especially around diversity, equity, and inclusion targets, with more community-oriented events, integration of more housing with greater diversity, and promotion of local businesses. Outreach and co-authorship are key elements to making innovation districts community assets.

3. Affinity districts are an important new trend in innovative living.

Untethered to their downtown office, urban residents are becoming more mobile. Gensler’s City Pulse Survey research finds that urban residents are seeking new work opportunities with better affordability, safety, and convenience that allow them to work closer to home or at home with access to key amenities. Affinity districts bring together like-minded individuals who, through their daily behavioral collisions, promote innovative thinking. Features include varied housing formats, agrihoods, and incubator office spaces with extensive community-oriented programming within the public realm.

4. CBDs are turning into CLDs.

Residents of city centers are looking for a shift away from an office-dominant land use model (Central Business Districts, or CBDs) to one that promotes urban living (Central Lifestyle Districts, or CLDs), with amenities and services within close walking or biking distance. This shift will require the integration of more urban housing in a variety of typologies and price points, and amenities and services at street level. It will also require a more high-performance public realm able to accommodate a variety of activities beyond mobility with seating, public artwork, pop ups, canopy shade, wayfinding, wireless connectivity, and more.

Stay tuned for the forthcoming blogs in this series, in which we’ll speak with urban designers, strategists, and development leaders to explore the key elements of successful innovation districts, how to revitalize downtown urban cores, and more. It is in their spirit of collaboration that cities and regions can best promote innovation.

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Nate Cherry
Nate is a director of urban planning at Gensler with over 25 years of experience in downtowns, transit, airports, sports, universities, research, and urban resilience in communities throughout the U.S., Mexico, and Canada. He leads a team that has been recognized with more than 100 national and state planning and design awards. Nate is based in Los Angeles. Contact him at .