Innovation Districts


Innovation districts are sections of metropolitan areas that are redesigned to encourage both economic growth and livability. These developments are on the rise in the U.S. A full range of services and institutions can be found in a compact urban area. Educational institutions, established companies, startups, cultural amenities, retail establishments, residential space, and transit options are all nearby. They offer rich opportunities as places to live, work, and promote entrepreneurship. According to the Brookings Institution, this clustering creates an "open innovation" economy that offers rich opportunities as places to live, to work, and to promote entrepreneurship. As places to live, innovation districts by definition are compact, walkable, and located near transit options. They provide easy access to a wide range of services and amenities, such as grocery stores, medical offices, restaurants, retail establishments, public markets, and cultural institutions. As places to work, innovation districts offer employment opportunities and flexible work options at research institutions, startup companies, and established firms. And as places for entrepreneurship, innovation districts attract company founders and nascent firms to take advantage of the ideas, information, resources, and talent that concentrate there. Other resources—including intermediaries, incubators, and mentor programs—also promote entrepreneurship.

Thus far, innovation district leaders have focused on attracting millennials. But younger adults are not the only people who can contribute to and benefit from the economic development in innovation districts. Intentional planning that includes people from historically disadvantaged groups can allow the benefits of revitalization to reach all populations. Yet it is a challenge to make these communities accessible to diverse populations. Compact urban development and proximity to jobs and amenities have made innovation districts desirable places to live. As a result, housing costs have risen. This can make it hard for people with low incomes already living in these districts to remain there or for others of more limited means to relocate to innovation districts and reap its benefits. Intentionally preserving, expanding, and diversifying housing options for all levels of affordability will allow a broader range of people to live in innovation districts. This also helps keep current residents from being displaced. Addressing these issues requires a variety of tools to engage developers, homeowners, renters, and the public sector. These tools include the preservation of existing housing stock, subsidies for households with low and moderate incomes, tax incentives, affordable housing requirements for new construction, and strategic public investments.

Finally, in order to create livable communities for all, innovation district leaders must pay attention to the design of the built environment: Narrow walkways and entrances, poor lighting, difficult-to-read signs, and other physical impediments affect accessibility and mobility, which in turn constrain people’s ability to age in their communities.



Innovation districts

Innovation districts should intentionally:

  • plan for, engage, and integrate older adults and traditionally underserved market populations as an opportunity and a community asset;
  • promote the economic well-being of existing residents of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities, including through the availability of affordable and accessible housing options; and
  • increase work opportunities for people of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds.

In addition, they should:

  • ensure an adequate supply of housing that is accessible to and affordable for people with low and moderate incomes (see this chapter’s section on Housing Accessibility and Universal Design Features that allow products to be used by people of many ages and abilities. In the context of housing, universal design may include widened doors, accessible kitchens and bathrooms, and other architecturally friendly features that help people remain independent during different life… );
  • create workforce development programs that are accessible to and meet the needs of a diverse population of older workers and job-seekers;
  • encourage older adults to participate in the entrepreneurial ecosystem; and
  • promote intergenerational engagement and understanding (see Chapter 12, Personal and Legal Rights—Intergenerational Cooperation and Chapter 7, Health— Promote Cognitive Health).