Innovation Precincts: Nodes of Convergence

Innovation Precincts are two words that Julie Wagner has come to know well.

As President of Urban Insights and a non-resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institute, Julie Wagner has been advising cities, communities and councils across the world on the clustering, collaboration and culture of innovation precincts.

Macquarie University has taken a lead on how to apply these principles of innovation precincts to their campus in Sydney’s north. Bringing academic and community stakeholders together, Wagner’s presentation focused in on Innovation Precincts as networked approaches to innovation. Through thoughtful planning, innovation precincts will grow organically driving partnerships and collaboration among a variety of stakeholders including universities, large companies, start-ups, and governments.

Innovation precincts are typically compact and create easy access and engagement between various people and agencies. Its sheer proximity within a community stimulates collaboration and conversation among entities that may not have interacted otherwise.

In order to thrive, Precincts need to be transit accessible and allow an efficient route for people to enter, exist and circulate within. They need to also contain mixed use development, including housing, offices, and retail space providing a diverse range of services to the local community.

Wagner encouraged urban leaders to think about Innovation Precincts as containing physical, economic and networking assets. The networking asset lies in what happens in between the spaces - activities, events (small or large, programmed or spontaneous), instigate conversations, collaboration and relationships.

The built form and infrastructure within the precinct and in the immediate surrounds are the physical assets that influence whether people want to be present. The products and services generated by the activity of start-ups, entrepreneurs, education institutions and government drive the innovation economy.

Wagner emphasised the importance of creating “nodes of convergence”; the places, spaces and opportunities for the physical, economic and networking assets to converge fostering ideas, communication and collaborations. From examining innovation precincts from Barcelona to Boston, Wagner believes it’s these nodes that set the pace, culture and prosperity of the precinct.

In closing the discussion, Wagner turned to the question of leadership - in this innovative collaborative environment who has responsibility to lead the growth and sustainability of the precinct. The answer is simple - shared leadership, shared responsibility and a change towards collective thinking.

For many urban leaders, governments and institutions will require a little thinking outside the box, taking on a little risk and little change. To foster innovation, urban leaders themselves will have to be innovative.

Leigh Osterhus

Programme Coordinator - Cities Leadership Institute

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