The geography of innovation is shifting, according to Bruce Katz, vice-president of Washington DC-based non-profit public policy group Brookings Institution and founding director of the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Programme. 

While 20 years ago, workers had to drive to research parks, work in isolation, and keep ideas secret, today, proximity is everything. In his new book The metropolitan revolution: How cities and metros are fixing our broken politics and fragile economy, Mr Katz said that he is convinced that innovation districts are this century’s productive geography and that they are already transforming cities.

Advertisement

“A new spatial geography of innovation is emerging,” he said. He calls this new geography the 'innovation district'.

According to Mr Katz, in 2014 this new model will reach a critical mass worthy of recognition and replication. He places that model in urban areas where employees can cycle or take public transport to work, have easy access to restaurants and coffee bars, and where innovative firms can be close to other such firms, research labs and universities to collaborate on ideas.

Mr Katz's research has found that 'innovation districts' are already in the downtowns and midtowns of several US cities, including Atlanta, Cambridge, Detroit, Philadelphia, San Francisco and St Louis. Here existing clusters of advanced research universities, medical complexes, and tech and creative firms are sparking business expansion as well as residential and commercial growth.

“Others are taking root in cities such as Boston and Seattle where underutilised areas – particularly older industrial lands – are being re-imagined and remade by leveraging their enviable location near waterfronts and downtowns and along transit lines,” Mr Katz said.