By Nikki Sneed
Innovation districts have been profiled in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and online media from Business Insider to Demos Quarterly.
But what are they exactly?
In The Rise of Innovation Districts, the Brookings Institution defines innovation districts as “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.”
So, what does all that mean?
Innovation districts are a new hot-ticket item in creative thinking and urban development around the US. A Google search will turn up millions of results, with Chattanooga’s district being pretty darn high on the list.
In the most basic terms, an innovation district is a designated section of a city where creative thinkers, entrepreneurs, students, and tech-savvy innovators can collide and collaborate to conceive and implement new ideas. It’s sort of an evolution of the live-work-play vision that leaders in many cities have been trying to achieve for decades in downtowns.
Ideally, innovation districts are made up of a everything people need to have a convenient, safe and engaged urban life, including a range of housing options, exciting nightlife and entertainment, innovative companies, startups, and accelerators, and other amenities such as coffee shops, parks, and transportation options. These elements combine to create an environment where people are within walking or biking distance of everything they need.
Sounds great, right? But haven’t we been working on this in Chattanooga for quite a while?
Yes, at least 30 years, and this is one thing that gives Chattanooga the jump on a number of other cities that are designating innovation districts. The qualities of place, or the factors that make public spaces within the city attractive and enjoyable, in our district and its surroundings are a significant attraction to new residents, workers, students and entrepreneurs.
The new generation of creative thinkers is further pushing the envelope by choosing alternative forms of transportation and focusing the bulk of their lives on the geography of open innovation around them—physical spaces, like coffee shops, where talented individuals can bump into each other and exchange ideas.