Developing Innovation Districts

While on the surface innovation development simply appears to be development adjacent to higher education, healthcare, and/or research anchors, there is an important recipe for partners to achieve ultimate success in creating a dynamic network of people, resources, and ideas. This development takes on different forms, including research parks, anchor-focused clusters, revitalized urban areas, and in some cases, entire innovation districts.

In each instance, these are important places that drive productivity and innovation more effectively than traditional development. Workers are 1.5 times more productive in these places where there is an agglomeration of knowledge, funding, talent, and specialized services than they are alone. Innovation today is enhanced by collision. Ideas are more collaborative and open than ever before, which has driven this unique real estate trend toward more adjacency, proximity, and density.

An important trend in urban redevelopment is the innovation district, which is fueled by the virtuous cycle happening in many cities: industry partners demand immediate adjacency to urban research institutions for access to talent and intellectual property, talented researchers demand adjacency to industry to interact, partner, and participate in funding to produce the research opportunities, and finally, workforce talent and supporting economic resources are driven to these research and industry partners.

To ultimately realize innovation success the real estate solution must be more than just adjacent space, but rather, must include thoughtfully aligned planning, development, and program activity that uniquely enables both the institution and industry to thrive, making the most of available resources, including talent, funding, and land.


The Brookings Institute offers the following definition: “Innovation Districts are dense engines of economic activity where research-oriented anchor institutions, high-growth firms, and tech and creative startups exist within an amenity rich residential and commercial area.” In short, these are places that thrive on competitive collaboration.

Source:  Brookings Institute

Successful Innovation Districts share several common success factors, including:

  • Vision and Leadership – A powerful, shared mission by a network of key stakeholders, including the institution, multiple industry participants, and local government.
  • Thoughtful Design and Programming – Curating the places and activities to foster the core talent capabilities, attract complementary resources, and fundamentally drive collisions that lead to disruptive innovation.  
  • Workforce Development – Districts require a diverse workforce. In fact,there are districts where 60% of the workforce doesn’t have a college degree.
  • Transportation – The district must be accessible, often multi-modal. Over half of all existing districts have a mass transit station within 0.4 miles (or an 8-minute walk).
  • Development Timeline – It is also important to maintain realistic perspective on development timelines.  These places can take decades to establish and mature.
Mission Bay development in July 2019


Every district has a story, and the fabric behind the story is born out of individual tailored solutions to your institution or your organization.  At Edgemoor, we bring the real estate and placemaking ingredients together with the following at the core of our thinking:

  • Foremost, it’s about the people and their work in these places. We recognize the real estate solution is merely a means to an important innovation end and bring ideas and solutions to inspire and help people thrive.
  • We leverage a long history of successful public-private partnerships with institutions to ensure our clients benefit from a partner with a deep understanding of higher education and research institution missions, processes, and stakeholders.
  • We energize the place by activating and curating places from the inside out, creating something for everyone to drive unexpected encounters and collision of diverse thought.
  • We take a legacy view on development that is different from traditional transactional real estate and sit in your seat as long-term owners and operators of millions of square feet across the country.

Whether you are exploring your current assets, evaluating partnership or expansion, or are considering specific opportunities, the Edgemoor team is uniquely positioned to help you maximize on your opportunity through our creative, flexible approach.

  1. The Rise of Innovation Districts
  2. Global Institute on Innovation Districts
  3. UCSF’s Perspective at Mission Bay San Francisco
  4. Sandler Neurosciences Center