COMING UP FOR AIR: HOW INNOVATION DISTRICTS ARE PIVOTING DURING THE PANDEMIC

per Carla Escolà Costa,

As countries begin to relax their regulatory measures for COVID-19, cities, states, and national governments are reeling from the economic shocks. The number of shuttered companies, retail, restaurants, and small-family owned businesses has rolled back economic progress—with communities living in poverty experiencing outsized impacts. The degree to which our prosperity has so precipitously declined calls into question earlier ambitions and ideals of a strong, more egalitarian society.

Conversations with dozens of innovation district leaders around the world have begun to paint a new narrative of how combined strength and ingenuity have inspired these organized places to pivot during COVID-19. Innovation districts, like so many other communities, are adopting measures and new functions to mitigate impacts on start-ups and anchors alike. Over the past month, The Global Institute has held listening sessions with 25 innovation districts across multiple global regions to hear their local stories. Click on this link to read the full list of districts.

Innovation districts are geographies of innovation that are primarily located in cities and urban areas that leverage the research strengths of R&D-rich universities and medical institutions, along with companies, start-ups, and a suite of intermediaries, such as accelerators and incubators. Unlike many traditional science parks and science corridors, they intentionally design horizontal systems of innovation that transcend buildings, actors, and often sectors. They leverage density, physical proximity, and shared amenities as part of their unique commitment to create, and grow, collaborative innovation communities.

Just a few months ago, these words in bold were virtues to be embraced. Today, they have been called into question as our world has withdrawn into itself.

In the cloud cast by the uncertainty surrounding the novel coronavirus, innovation districts—locales recognized for building communities that value human connection and physical contact—might easily have found themselves sitting on the sidelines waiting for sunnier times. Yet this is hardly the case. Leaders establishing and growing innovation districts are instead “leaning in”—actively seeking new solutions for mitigating the economic rollback, which in many countries has disproportionately impacted ethnic and minority groups.


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