Boston Innovation District

What are the project goals?

After the completion of the "Big Dig," a project that rerouted the downtown portion of I-93 through a subterranean tunnel, Downtown and South Boston were no longer divided by a major highway. In 2010, then-Mayor Thomas Menino shifted the city's focus to redeveloping 1000 acres of South Boston through the use of an Innovation District. The intent was to create a 24/7 neighborhood to attract financers, resources, and talent, mimicking the successes of 22@, the world's first innovation district, located in Barcelona.

The project centers on redeveloping the South Boston Waterfront, an area stretching from the Fort Point Channel to the Reserved Channel. The land mainly consists of old industry and large parking lots surrounding the Massachusetts Convention Center. Officials expect the project will attract a diverse array of innovative startups to South Boston by offering a competitive and affordable environment that provides the economic, networking, and physical assets (for example, easy access to transportation infrastructure) needed for startups to succeed. 

How it was the project financed?

The Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA), Boston's main planning agency, manages the project and provides partial funding for the construction of new public spaces. Public-private partnerships between the BRA and corporations ease the financial burden of the project on the City's budget, and they also help businesses integrate into the community. 

The District pursues three core principles; to become an urban lab for testing new ground-breaking technologies, to follow a path of sustainable growth, and to enable the sharing of ideas thus forming a hub for innovation. The District also has been implementing three strategies to accomplish its goals; promote collaboration, provide public space and programming, and develop a 24-hour neighborhood. In its first five years, the District has benefited from ample investment and energy from the private sector. Several nonprofits such as MassChallenge, a nonprofit startup accelerator, are financing local startups. The entire project relies heavily upon principles of the shared economy and the connections between public leadership and private financing. 

Other Details 
Since 2010, Boston's innovation district has created over 5,000 jobs and attracted 200 new companies.  The District has caught the eye of both hopeful startups and more established companies such as Zipcar and Vertex Pharmaceuticals, both of whom have set up headquarters in the District.

The City also has a $1 billion plan on standby to add 1.2 million square feet to the Massachusetts Convention Center, a major anchor in the District. Future projects include the construction of thousands of new private housing units, including micro apartments being designed by a local startup called Factory 63. District Hall, a large public space where innovators can congregate, opened in 2013 as the centerpiece of Boston's Innovation District. The building offers 12,000 square feet of meeting space, and was the result of a public-private partnership between the BRA and private investment from companies such as Microsoft, John Hancock Financial, and Bose. 

Boston Innovation District website: 
Innovation District

Feature from CitiesSpeak, the NLC BlogSpot:  http://citiesspeak.org/2014/06/02/innovation-districts-are-catalysts-for-urban-growth/ 

Photo image courtesy of Creative Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Institute_of_Contemporary_Art,_Boston.jpg

NLC Contact

City Solutions and Applied Research
202-626-3163
brooks@nlc.org

Last Updated July 2015

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