Innovation Districts: The Future of Local?

Stephanie Sanderson_400x400

Director, Strategic Marketing


Sixty years ago, a second great American migration occurred as people began leaving cities for the suburbs, remaking landscapes and transportation in the process. But if you’ve been paying attention to the most interesting sectors of the economy you won’t be surprised to see that a very different trend has taken hold in recent years.

Cities are in the national spotlight again. In 2011, for the first time in nearly 90 years, the population growth of US cities outpaced that of the suburbs.

And while that might mean the waning of the dream of a little blue house with a white picket fence, it also means an exciting future for urban residents as neighborhoods are revitalized. Demographers and sociologists have noticed this trend, identifying how the close proximity of people stimulates creativity and entrepreneurship. They’re calling these neighborhoods “innovation districts.”

That’s why marketers need to start paying closer attention to innovation districts, a trend for both business and planners. They’ve cropped up in Brooklyn, Boston, Chicago and Portland – to name a few. They come in different shapes, sizes and formats, but one thing is consistent: the creation of a professional ecosystem that injects new life into under-utilized commercial space.

One of the best examples, in my opinion, is in Boston, where small businesses and fledgling startups rent space and utilize shared conference rooms in South Boston’s waterfront. Shared co-working space with other up-and-coming innovators is popular and the embedded businesses (coffee shops and restaurants) in the newly-built District Hall and nearby Seaport Square are popular spots to hunker down with a triple shot of espresso and chat up like-minded patrons.

So why should marketers care?

Despite our fast internet connections, people are leaving the isolation of the suburbs and creating new communities in urban centers. And good marketing campaigns do something similar: they strike up a conversation, and a relationship with a community.

Savvy marketers would also do well to think about ways to speak directly to America’s new class of thinkers, makers and influencers who tend to populate innovation districts.

Urban dwellers have seen the huge success of companies like Uber and Seamless who have zeroed in on hungry, young consumers looking to get from A to B. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

These could also be the next Microsoft, Google or Apple, so we should all start networking while we can. And those businesses too will need to get out of their bubbles and reach out to the larger surrounding community.

It’s just more proof that local is more important than ever, and marketers need to catch up or get left behind.