Innovation Districts in the ‘Burbs

Next week, we’re going to Newton and Needham, MA to present our final report for the N2 Innovation Corridor. The client represents a group of stakeholders that want to redevelop a suburban area outside of Boston that is currently home to some of the original office parks into an innovation district. This is an admirable goal, as people all over the world are recognizing the power of consolidating workers, research facilities, entrepreneurs and sources of capital into urban districts. This captures the essence of what economists call agglomeration economics – that many good things come from places that encourage “happy collisions” in terms of creativity and innovation. These districts also appeal to baby boomers and Millennials who are developing preferences for integrated live, work and play experiences that are less dependent upon cars. On the other hand, suburban American is exactly what innovation districts are designed not to be, so how can the two be reconciled?

We think that the essence of an innovation district is simply a place that is denser than suburbia, with mixed used development (retail, office and residential), enabled by innovative transportation solutions. Where this can also be integrated with nature, such as the N2 Corridor’s opportunity along the Charles River, so much the better. With a highly educated, creative and culturally diverse population, Newton and Needham already have the type of workforce that will attract many entrepreneurs and growing companies.

All that is needed is a sense of themselves as an innovative place, and the ability to communicate that to the outside world, whether through marketing and social media, or through just doing it! After all, authenticity is the most crucial component. Be yourself, and tell your story, we are saying. And work toward the denser, yet integrated community with lots of relationships, networks and “happy collisions.”

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