The rise of the innovation oriented city

A number of the world's most dynamic cities are implementing ambitious urban development projects to be cutting-edge and driven by innovation.

March 08, 2016

Bigger is no longer better when it comes to our cities: They need something more than raw growth to give them the edge and drive them forward.

That something is known as innovation and it’s increasingly becoming a core part of our successful modern cities. It’s also affecting how they develop. Real estate no longer just accommodates innovation – but can actively foster and encourage it.

A number of the world’s most dynamic cities are implementing ambitious urban development projects to bolster their positions as cutting-edge ‘tech hubs’ – cities which have the ecosystems, environments and appeal needed to thrive in the modern world.

This commitment to innovation is driving their momentum, says Jeremy Kelly, Director, Global Research at JLL. “City momentum is built on the foundations of a strong and innovative economy, as technology transforms the world around us and becomes embedded in everything we do,” he says. “As such, tech hubs, from global super cities – like London and Tokyo – to smaller, specialized centres – like Austin and Auckland, are well positioned for the future.”

The emergence of ‘Innovation Districts’

Innovation is increasingly shifting away from out-of-town science parks and back into city centers. More and more young, tech-savvy workers and start-ups are being drawn to mixed-use, well-connected, and highly liveable neighbourhoods where the proximity of housing/residential areas, businesses and institutions can foster a community built of innovation, collaboration and communication. It’s happening in cities across the world from London’s Tech City around Shoreditch to Boston’s Kendall Square and San Francisco’s SOMA neighbourhood.

These districts are often centred on anchor institutions, which tend to be universities or research centres. New York and London – two of the world’s super cities – are explicitly creating spaces within which businesses and universities can come together and work towards the successful commercialisation of academic research.

Kelly says: “Both cities are already magnets for talent, home to several world-class universities and are global commercial centres but, in the face of increasing competition from more specialized smaller cities, must work hard to maintain their innovation credentials.”

New York is developing a new graduate campus on Roosevelt Island (Cornell NYC Tech), which has received huge support from the city and will have a first-of-its-kind in-house patent officer. In London, the regeneration of White City will include a research quarter centred on the new Imperial West campus, while the new UCL East campus will bring academic research strengths and an innovation centre to a redeveloped Stratford, which already includes the ‘Here East’ tech centre. These developments are set to harness the diverse strengths of each city.

‘New World Cities’ are transforming

The development of new ‘innovation districts’ can be seen in numerous cities, beyond just global super cities. Auckland’s Wynyard Quarter, for example is a waterfront mixed-use development that includes a dedicated ‘Innovation Quarter’ centred on the GridAKL incubator, and is part of the city’s explicit aim to become a leading innovation hub in Asia-Pacific.

Meanwhile, Boston has rechristened the city’s Seaport District as an ‘innovation district’, drawing on the city’s exceptional higher education institutions, including Harvard and MIT. The area is home to District Hall, the U.S.’s first public innovation center, and the MassChallenge accelerator and is currently experiencing a raft of new development. Elsewhere in the U.S., Seattle’s South Lake Union has undergone huge transformation into a life sciences hub, led by the relocation of Amazon’s corporate campus in the neighbourhood (having moved from suburban Redmond), while San Francisco’s Mission Bay is undergoing a similar revitalization.

Meanwhile in Dublin, the Docklands area has attracted the likes of Google and Amazon and now further development is on the way with the designation of the North Lotts and Grand Canal Dock area as a ‘strategic development zone’ (SDZ). Each of these cities is building on its strengths, its liveability factors and its higher education credentials to specialize in technology – despite their relatively small size.

Yet this shift toward innovation is not strictly an established city phenomenon. The best performing emerging cities which include the likes of Bangalore, Shenzhen and Hyderabad can be considered among their countries’ leading tech hubs. Nairobi is starting to establish itself as Africa’s tech hub – ‘Silicon Savannah’. As part of an ambitious plan for 2030, the city is planning Konza Techno City, a purpose-built, tech-focused ‘city’ 64km south of Nairobi.

“Each of these cities has gained impressive momentum thanks to their focus on innovation,” says Kelly. “The demand for space from tech companies is driving both rental increases and new construction, strong higher education provision is forming the basis for long-term success, and this overall attractiveness is drawing both investment and wider interest from a global audience.”

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