Live, Work, Play: Purdue’s Discovery Park District is Redefining Innovation Districts

Innovation districts have taken a prominent position in civic and economic development discourse. Essentially, these districts concentrate the traditional building blocks of a city in a smaller space focusing on innovation, entrepreneurship, and economic growth. Imagine a hybrid between a business park and a lively downtown area with commercial offices, housing, restaurants, entertainment options, and outdoor spaces all within walking distance. While no exact blueprint guarantees transformative innovation for a given area, five factors generally contribute to the success of innovation districts:1

  1. People: A growing population of highly skilled and creative innovators to fuel economic activity.
  2. Infrastructure: Broadband, public transit, attractive living options, green spaces, office spaces, and entertainment venues to encourage a “live, work, play” environment.
  3. Economic Assets: Investment firms, businesses, and universities to stimulate and enable innovation.
  4. Enabling Ecosystem: Municipal policies relating to business licensing, property, and open data to enable business growth.
  5. Networking Assets: Informal mentorship connections, conferences, incubators, and more to connect and amplify the effects of the factors above and maximize innovation.

This conception of innovation districts is the latest iteration of an idea that has evolved over the past couple of decades. Formerly, innovation districts were often developed in isolation from their surrounding communities and many leaned into the business park more so than the residential dimension. As the “live, work, play” aspect of these districts emerges as a defining feature, Discovery Park District (DPD) is uniquely positioned to move the concept forward as a fully integrated and connected community where innovation thrives and the safety, privacy, and trust of each resident are valued.

As Discovery Park District develops, its leadership is mindful of the opportunities and challenges associated with innovation districts. These districts face a dilemma shared by any smart city initiative––while new Internet of Things (IoT) applications and the open exchange of data can set the stage for a wide range of benefits from more efficient municipal services to entrepreneurial breakthroughs, it can also lead to privacy and security risks. Through the Digital Trust Initiative, DPD is addressing these risks head-on. Engagement with leading experts in privacy, cybersecurity, data governance, community engagement, equity, and sustainability is guiding the district as they work to set a new standard for responsible innovation and provide unprecedented data ownership and transparency for residents.

A forthcoming report created as part of the Digital Trust Initiative explores the following five communities across the US, each of which provides unique insights that will guide DPD’s development as an innovation district centered around community trust.

·  The Innovation District of Chattanooga is a model for innovation in mid-size cities, with a high level of trust between local leaders facilitating efficient collaboration.

·  Philadelphia’s University City District exemplifies a range of positive benefits resulting from the integration of an innovation district with the surrounding community, from a stronger workforce to more beautiful public spaces.

·  Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood exemplifies an impactful confluence of responsible commercial development and forward-thinking municipal policies.

·  St. Louis’s Cortex Innovation Community reinforces the importance of a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem as a component of a thriving innovation district.

· The Safety and Innovation Zone in Arlington, Virginia demonstrates the benefits of close engagement with community members throughout IoT initiatives.

In the meantime, for a more comprehensive exploration of innovation districts, refer to “The Rise of Innovation Districts: A New Geography of Innovation in America” by Bruce Katz and Julie Wagner from the Brookings Institution. Additionally, “Boosting Tech Innovation Ecosystems in Cities” by Victor Mulas from the World Bank is an excellent case study providing more detail on the factors critical to an innovation district’s success. Both provided valuable insights leading to this blog.

1. Mulas, Victor; Minges, Michael; Applebaum, Hallie, 2015. Boosting Tech Innovation                               Ecosystems in Cities. The World Bank.                      10986/23029