The world of economic development is subject to a seemingly endless cycle of “idea labeling,” as various actors in the industry attempt to interpret trends, real and imagined, or reimagined, in how cities develop. One concept of current interest is Innovation Districts, which is given detailed treatment by the Global Institute on Innovation Districts ( The label is fairly self-explanatory, and for large central cities the formula for achieving a district is, greatly oversimplified, to encourage areas where a diverse set of entrepreneurs have clustered to grow linkages with research and other institutions, while increasing the physical environment’s potential for interactivity (beyond what is already likely to be an advantageous dense urban setting).

  • Suburbs or independent small cities may not already have innovation districts in the making, but perhaps could achieve them, in recognition of the following:

  • If expanding opportunities for technology-focused entrepreneurs is a strategic goal, the innovation district would be a supportive environment for this.

  • Tech entrepreneurs are also likely to be attracted to a place with interesting housing options and workspace options, with affordability of either or both of these also a factor.

  • Conditions that can support an innovation district include the following:

    • What established industries in the community are likely to be calling for tech-based innovations? There are few industries today to which this question does not apply, even if it does not apply to all local firms.

    • Are there institutions of higher learning in the community or nearby that have research-oriented capabilities?

    • While having one or more local industries that are well represented in the community (e.g. high Location Quotients) is generally considered a basis for working to attract more activity in such industries, a diverse mix of industries, especially if they have some focus in technology, can be a virtue for innovation districts and their current relative strength in the community (LQ values may be low) is not important.

    • Are there underutilized commercial or industrial areas in the community that could be repurposed for use by small startup ventures? To the extent such areas exist, might there be urban planning/design improvements that could be brought to bear in such areas, given that such improvements could potentially benefit a range of business types, including but not necessarily exclusive to the innovation district concept? These kinds of improvements would include expanding transportation options, streetscapes and beautification, enhanced public spaces and programmed activities, programs to encourage building upgrades, and policies to generally maximize building, site and area usability.

From a strategic-planning standpoint, note that establishing (or encouraging) an innovation district crosses over a number of topical areas, including entrepreneurial development, economic diversification, area revitalization, leveraging institutional assets, housing diversification, and quality of life enhancements.