(Mitchell Weiss / innovationdistricts.org)New Republic
has a piece out on how downtown Detroit remains competitive thanks to a conglomeration of economic activity causing intellectual spillovers
- “what one company or person learns from another company or person”:
Innovation district is a relatively new term just beginning to gain currency among political, business, and civic leaders. Just a handful of places in the world have used the term to self-consciously describe a concentration of innovative institutions and resources that together create a “more than the sum of their parts” effect.
….It turns out that innovation and the density that city neighborhoods provide are a perfect match for each other. According to a study by the British government, “While the marginal cost of transmitting information across geographical space has fallen significantly, the marginal cost of transmitting knowledge still rises with distance… . Therefore, the knowledge spillover benefits of clustering in cities can be large for high-value, knowledge intensive sectors.” These knowledge-intensive sectors, including chemicals, biotechnology, telecommunications, and semiconductors have themselves recognized that they have to collaborate to compete.
Authors Bruce Katz & Jennifer Bradley, who also wrote The Metropolitan Revolution
(and who I saw on PBS’s News Hours a few evenings ago), go on to explain how constant interaction stimulates knowledge sharing. Effects from urban agglomeration
thus become the starting point for cities to build up and out from.
At a distance of just over a mile, the power of intellectual ferment to create another new firm or even another new job drops to one-tenth or less of what it is closer in, because “information spillovers that require frequent contact between workers may dissipate over a short distance as walking to a meeting place becomes difficult or as random encounters become rare.” Researchers at Harvard Medical School have found that even working in the same building on an academic medical campus makes a difference for scientific breakthroughs. As one of them explains, “Otherwise it’s really out of sight, out of mind.”
The finite resources of our city governments call for concentrated tactics. It begs the question ‘Where can spending the least amount of money make the most difference?’ Targeting resources towards the places that will multiply benefits from intricate networks is a starting point for Detroit and other cities looking to remodel themselves.