Reflections on the Boston Innovation District

blogimage_BIDBy Neil Britto, Executive Director, The Intersector Project

The Intersector Project’s recently released report, The Development of Boston’s Innovation District, created in partnership with the Harvard Business School Board Fellows and Social Enterprise Consulting, explores the role of government, business, and non-profit collaboration in one of the country’s most prominent innovation districts.

Innovation districts are a form of cross-sector collaboration where interactions among local leaders and organizations produce a strategy that employs the assets of the government, business, and non-profit sectors to achieve local economic goals. An important question is: Why does it matter what role each sector plays in the development of an innovation district?

  • It is indicative of where and how local government approaches the need to nurture neighborhood-led innovation. The City of Boston’s public entrepreneurship approach allowed for non-public-sector entities to have an active role in the design and implementation of the Innovation District. As the recently released Neighborhood Innovation District Committee report recommends to Mayor Walsh in Boston, innovation districts ‘’cannot be designed by city hall alone.”

  • Finding synergies among the policies, programs, and services offered by each sector is a success factor for improving the economic, physical, and networking assets that characterize an innovation district. For more on this topic, see Bruce Katz and Julie Wagner’s influential report “The Rise of Innovation Districts.”

  • As innovation district models are replicated and adapted for different neighborhoods, the importance of each sector’s assets may change, but the benefit of finding synergies among each sector’s assets will not. As Boston turns to Dudley Square – Uphams Corner Corridor as the site of another potential innovation district, the City’s strategy will include ‘’investing in people through forms of vocational and entrepreneurial training, making the process inclusive, and matching the physical infrastructure with the human needs of the neighborhood.’’ These strategic features will likely require active involvement of non-profit organizations that possess experience and expertise in servicing the neighborhood. Consideration for affordable rents and creating opportunities to leverage existing local assets will require research, advocacy, and programs native to the non-profit sector. Managing the development of the innovation district should be tied to protecting the neighborhood from unintended harm (e.g. rising rents) that may be caused by the district’s success.

  • The rise of innovation districts (along with increasing interest in trends such as the sharing economy and data collaboratives) is a trend that reflects changes in how public and private assets are organized and employed in The United States. The common element is a role for the government, business, and non-profit sectors in both addressing the challenges and seizing the opportunities presented by these trends.