“Innovation districts are the future growth engines of cities, but they are property’s most misunderstood framework,” says Sam Okeby, Lendlease’s head of commercial.
Innovation districts have come a long way since Silicon Valley. Responding to a host of megatrends – from automation and artificial intelligence to agglomeration – innovation districts are evolving as an urban model to maximise human capital.
Dozens of cities are embracing the innovation district model, from Barcelona to Berlin to Boston. By conservative estimates, there are now more than a hundred innovation districts across the globe. They are geographically, economically, and culturally diverse, and are financed by sources ranging from venture capital to tax revenues.
“Innovation districts are not an asset class in themselves and are not defined by any single attribute. An innovation district is a culmination of industry, geography – including density and accessibility – agenda and attitude,” Okeby explains.
Innovation districts thrive on the connectivity between economic, physical and networking assets, Okeby adds.
“The close proximity of these assets, along with a supportive, risk-taking culture and governance framework creates an innovation ecosystem – an inclusive synergy between people, firms and place that facilitates idea generation and accelerates commercialisation.”
Why are innovation districts important?
In 2018, Lendlease was the first founding partner of the Global Institute on Innovation Districts, a growing group of influential researchers and practitioners.
“Innovation districts often hinge on university research activity that companies and entrepreneurs want to be close to. Working together can really drive innovation, economic growth and solve city challenges.”
“This is not just about investing in office development,” Okeby adds. He says Lendlease works with partners to identify and enhance the strengths of these ecosystems.
“We find the commercialisation of research very exciting. It means that we are moving away from transactional based outcomes. Instead, by bringing together multidisciplinary fields across STEM industries, we’re looking to the future.”
Why MIND matters
Lendlease’s Innovation district in Milan, dubbed MIND, is one of Europe’s largest regeneration projects. The masterplan brings together public institutions, the University of Milan, National Research Institute Campus and Galeazzi Hospital, and mixed-use multi-phase development with an area of up to 500,000 sqm.
“Innovation districts are not just about the proximity of buildings or the people. We understand the need to weave in social and partnership enablers into the fabric of the precinct,” Okeby explains.
“It’s the complete sum of the parts that truly make these pioneering precincts.”
As part of MIND, around 2.5 kilometres of new cycle paths will connect to a wider 80 kilometre network. The precinct is designed to LEED for Neighbourhood Development and WELL certification standards.
“We also plan to establish a social impact investment fund to support social innovation initiatives that create quality jobs and promote circular economy,” Okeby adds.
Connecting Melbourne’s best and brightest
Closer to home, the University of Melbourne, in partnership with a consortium led by Lendlease, is creating an innovation ecosystem called Melbourne Connect.
“Our vision is to place highest calibre research, industry, government, higher-degree students and other elite thinkers in a single purpose-built precinct,” Okeby says.
Melbourne Connect features around 28,000 sqm of A-Grade office space for the Melbourne School of Engineering, co-working and commercial tenants, Science Gallery Melbourne, retail and a 3,000 sqm ‘superfloor’ of shared meeting and event space. The precinct will also be home to around 530 post-graduates and visiting academic residents living in purpose built Urbanest student accommodation.
Okeby says the Global Institute has designed an 18-month research agenda that will “offer some concrete answers to questions prompted by the ever-growing interest in innovation districts across the globe”.
“Expect a more rigorous analysis and definition of innovation districts, as well as on-the-ground strategic support and guidance.”