There’s a lot of talk today about “innovative cities”. But what exactly are they? What are the qualities of an innovative city? How can those qualities be reproduced in other cities? And how does a city ensure that everyone in the community benefits from that innovation and economic benefit?
These questions drove the Venture Café Foundation to host the Second Innovation and the City Conference last week at District Hall. The event convened scholars, policy makers, and practitioners to discuss the strategies, opportunities and drawbacks associated with innovation-based urban economic development, and included participants from numerous cities, including Boston, Detroit, St. Louis and Milwaukee, among others. I was honored to participate in the event for a second time, and also had the pleasure of participating in the panel on anchor organizations.
Given the diversity of participants and opinions, as well as the common goal of understanding innovative cities, there was energetic discussion during the panels, from the audience, and during the breaks. There’s no definitive path to creating an innovative city, since so much depends on the community make up, history, civic participation and finances of a given city, but there were overarching themes that emerged over the day and a half:
- Innovation in a city requires openness. This can be translated a number of ways, but as I noted during my panel, it boils down to ensuring the system—whether that’s a city or another institution—has the ability to take in new ideas and integrate them into their innovation model.
- Innovation also requires diversity. This means inclusiveness across the community as well as diversity of approach, organizations, policies and community engagement.
- Organizations who want to be part of the innovation conversation need to be an engaged element of the community. It’s not enough to do this work remotely, or halfway.
- Education is the foundation to an innovative city. Time and again, panelists and audience members noted that without an educational system equipped to foster critical thinking and skills development necessary for an innovative economy, other tactics would only bring a city so far along the innovation spectrum.
- Sharing best practices is key. While each city will vary in how it tackles the innovation question due to its unique makeup, there is much to be learned from the range of civic stakeholders who drive this in their respective cities.
I came away energized by the thoughtful and passionate discussions I had individually, as well as within the panels. Congratulations to the Venture Café Foundation for convening and catalyzing such a crucial discussion.