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So you want to boost innovation: what's the ideal density for an Innovation District? - 2019

Actualizado: 12 jul 2021

This analysis is explored in depth in Aretian's new Atlas of Innovation Districts and accompanying report. You can access the interactive Atlas and download the full report at

Innovation Districts come in many shapes and sizes. The Atlas of Innovation Districts surveys innovative neighborhoods around the Unites States, including districts as different Midtown Manhattan's Silicon Alley, the St Louis Cortex, and the Oak Ridge National Labs in Tennessee. From skyscraper districts to low-rise urban neighborhoods to rural research campuses, these areas find ways to make innovation happen under very different urban design conditions.

There is plenty of variation in what Innovation Districts look like - but what can analytics tell us about what actually produces the best results? For cities that are trying to develop an existing neighborhood into an innovation hub, or which want to develop a new space for innovation from scratch, what the ideal density for an Innovation District?

Aretian set out to explore this question through the Atlas of Innovation Districts. The team cross-referenced building height with an Aretian metric called Innovation Intensity, which measures the percentage of a district's workers who are employed in knowledge-intensive roles. The team measured the average Innovation Intensity for communities in the United States at around 11% while the highest-performing Innovation Districts in the Atlas showed Innovation Intensities above 90%.

As the data came together, a pattern emerged. The districts with the highest Innovation Intensity clustered around a similar average building height: 5 to 7 stories.

Not only does is there a cluster of high-performing Innovation Districts in the 5 to 7 story range, but districts with taller buildings show a drastically lower Innovation Intensity than might be expected.

What explains these trends? The answer is density. Innovation Districts thrive on high-density networks of knowledge workers and entrepreneurs, whose collaboration and knowledge sharing advance innovative ideas and attract strategic partners to the area.

If building height is too low, the district will not have enough work space to produce dense communities of innovators. If building height is too high, as in Midtown Manhattan, the innovators "get lost" among all the other kinds of businesses in the area. The extreme vertical height disperses innovators and depersonalizes the neighborhood.

The verdict: 5 to 7 stories seems to be the ideal building height for the density that innovation districts need. This type of neighborhood is dense enough for close concentration of people but with buildings low enough for fruitful interactions at a human scale.

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