Inside Boston's 'Innovation District'

A self-branded "Innovation District" is catching on in Boston, bringing thousands of jobs and a number of tech startups to the city.
Written by Tyler Falk, Contributor

It seems like every city is positioning themselves to be the "next Silicon Valley." That's because technology startups and companies that promote innovation are today's industrial districts of the knowledge economy: must-haves in any city.

We've seen it recently in New York's tech campus and in Chicago's tech hub, and now you can add Boston to that list.

Two years after Mayor Thomas Menino branded Boston's southern waterfront as the city's "Innovation District," the area is gaining traction. And they're doing it without a mega tech company among their tenants. Instead, about 100 smaller startups have moved in and they're bring the jobs with them. Boston Globe sets the scene:

Office rents are low, at least for Boston, and the neighborhood is catching on; any company looking for space in the city is looking there, real estate brokers say.

As Menino mentioned in his State of the City address last week, 100 companies and 3,000 jobs have come in, bringing a laptop-toting crowd to an area long known for its gritty working seaport and artist studios.

The rise of the district is helping to bring a forgotten industrial district, with thelargest tract of underdeveloped land in the city, back to life.

The Innovation District umbrella covers a disparate collection of smaller neighborhoods and development clusters, including Fort Point, which is a dense section of industrial buildings developed in the 1830s, parts of the Financial and Leather districts, Channel Center, Fan Pier, and Liberty Wharf.

Within that urban landscape - home to the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, Marine Industrial Park, and the Bank of America Pavilion, as well as numerous vast parking lots - there are plans to add more than one million square feet of new construction. About a dozen development projects are under consideration or have been approved by the Boston Redevelopment Authority, including such office towers as the $800 million Fan Pier project for Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc.

What's exciting about these innovation hubs is that, despite the ability to work from anywhere, cities are proving that innovation happens best when tech companies and startups cluster. Not only is that good for businesses, it's good for the city because it leads to more infill development where people can live near their work, which leads to a larger transit ridership.

Here's how the city puts it:

[I]deas need a tight ecosystem to foster creative growth – distance equals death.  The ability for small firms to generate ideas and intermingle with larger firms who have the access to capital and the ability to scale and grow those ideas is imperative in entrepreneurial fields. This tight location clustering leads to job creation as well as more efficient product and service design.  These Innovation District clusters become the new economic engines for the region, retaining homegrown talent from the surrounding city and intellectual institutions.

Below is a flyover of what the area looked like in 2010 and this map shows what's happened since:

Photo: Danielle Walquist Lynch/Flickr

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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