INSPIRING A NEW WAVE OF PLACE-LED INNOVATION HUBS

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The evolution from closed to open innovation has inspired a shift in the way innovation districts are understood, built and managed. The Bass Initiative on Innovation and Placemaking is a good example of the growing interest in innovation districts and more specifically – how these clusters of startups, incubators and accelerators can be redesigned to reflect and apply in-situ the core principles of open innovation. There is a real danger in converting modern innovation districts into urban islands, a type of ghettos, reserved exclusively for white-collar workers who conduct all of their activities inside a glassdoor office and rarely, if ever, interact with the surrounding environment. What the Bass Initiative investigates is the potential of public space to tear down this silo mentality and create vibrant innovation ecosystems in which talented people have ample opportunities to communicate with each other and the community around them.

La Marina de Valencia is one of those unique spaces, an epicenter of a rising cluster of innovation companies, which is very much molded by the paradigm of placemaking. For many decades, the port was seen as a symbol of Valencia’s thriving export industry and a source of pride and prosperity for the local maritime communities. This image was radically transformed in the early 2000s, when the site was remade into a scene for costly international events, like the America’s Cup and later on the Formula 1 Grand Prix Race. The ambitious projects fueled rapid infrastructure and real estate growth at La Marina, but they also exhibited a chronic lack of strategic long-term planning. When the global economic crisis brought an end to the lavish spending, the dark legacy of the white elephants finally began to sink in. There was a local community which felt alienated from its historic harbor; installations laid idle without any purpose or plan for long-term use, and on top of all that – a striking 444 million Euro debt put in question the future of the entire place.

It was in these unique circumstances that the innovation hub of La Marina emerged. Today, the former sailing bases and F1 pit boxes are rented out to a start-up accelerator, a business school for entrepreneurs, a fintech incubator, and a soon-to-be technological center. Nonetheless, there are still a lot of underused spaces and idle buildings with great potential waiting to be repurposed. In this context of post-crisis recovery, the management team of La Marina has seen a golden opportunity to apply the principles of placemaking and convert the space into a living and breathing example of a place-led innovation ecosystem which is open, accessible and inclusive.

Since 2016, CV07 has set in motion the transformation of Tinglado 2 (a former industrial shed) which is going to sit at the heart of a bigger public plaza of some 12 250 m2 equipped with areas for recreation, green spaces and even some sports facilities. Just a few meters north of Tinglado 2, near the business school for young entrepreneurs, architects are sketching up plans for a new skate park which will replace what is now an obsolete patch of grey asphalt, previously part of the F1 circuit. The plan is to surround the skate park with a family-friendly zone, which includes benches and more shade. Thus, slowly but systematically, La Marina has been boosting the quality of public space – developing multi-purpose zones, improving accessibility and inspiring creative patterns of public use.

By attracting a diverse group of visitors to a rising cluster of start-ups and business incubators, La Marina has made innovation more visible and more accessible, thus setting itself apart from the old-school industrial districts and science parks, enclosed in their own technological bubble. The ongoing improvements in the space of the harbor have brought in a mixed crowd of users, but they have also created opportunities for people to meet and interact with each other. It is often in this context of unexpected encounters that collaboration emerges and novel ideas are born. In La Marina’s growing innovation cluster, public space is understood as an asset which can attract and retain talent, bring people together and foster the meaningful exchange of knowledge, ideas and propositions between individual firms, but also between firms and users.

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