6 U.S. cities at the forefront of innovation districts

A new Brookings Institution study records the emergence of “competitive places that are also cool spaces.”

June 16, 2014 |
M-1 streetcar line, Detroit. Credit: Anderson Illustration | Brookings Instituti

Imagine a place where going to work means biking freely without the fear of cars to a coffee shop, where one collaborates with other people from nearby start-ups, research labs or universities. Sounds like a Portlandia episode? Truth is, a report released by the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program earlier this week states that such work environments are starting to emerge organically throughout the world – they’re called Innovation Districts.

These districts are defined as “geographic areas where anchor institutions and companies cluster and connect with small firms, startups, business incubators and accelerators.” Additionally, innovation districts are “physically compact, transit accessible, technically wired and offer a mix of housing, office and retail.”

Having a compact district where firms are near other firms, research labs and universities allows for “open innovation,” which is the sharing of ideas from “legal advice to sophisticated lab equipments.”

This environment, emerging particularly in the U.S. post Great Recession, is a far departure from the landscape of innovation that has dominated the past 50 years – suburban corridors of isolated corporate campuses, accessible mainly by car with little to no attention to integrating work, housing and recreation.

Here are six cities in the U.S. from East Coast to West Coast with areas that fit Brookings’ definition of Innovation District (and to learn more about each, take a look at Brookings' visually compelling report here):


1. Boston: Innovation District


2. Philadelphia: University City


3. Raleigh–Durham: Research Triangle Park


4. Detroit: Downtown, Midtown



5. St. Louis: Cortex



6. Seattle: South Lake Union


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