The NLA Expert Panel on Science, Technology and Innovation met on 28th June 2021 to discuss how innovation districts can support local communities and businesses in the post-pandemic world.
This imperative agenda has been a re-occurring theme over the panel’s first year, captured in the group’s support for innovation districts to play a role in innovation, infrastructure and skills through the Build Back Better initiative, nationally.
Firstly, the group was interested in understanding the current initiatives that exist in this arena and what is being planned. It was cited that the UK Innovation District Group will be responding formally to the National Innovation Strategy (released July 21 at the earliest) which is likely to define 20 city funding deals as well as 3 large innovation district deals, which in line with the leveling up agenda should include areas across the breadth of the UK as well as the Golden Triangle.
The UK Innovation District Group will also be undertaking a 12 month Inclusive Innovation research commission, supported by BEIS (Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy) and the Connected Places Catapult. This will comprise of a comprehensive study looking through the lens of both thematic and geographic aspects of enabling inclusive growth in and around innovation districts. It was agreed that this this would be an obvious initiative for the NLA Expert Panel to be involved in throughout the 21/22 cycle.
The group then discussed the importance of this inclusivity being led by stakeholders with policy providing support. Certain Local Authorities and other influential groups are driving this with a community voice, such as Camden’s Renewal Commission and Good Life Euston.
In terms of design, the panel were interested in how innovation districts can achieve permeability at ground floor and integration with public realm, given the nature of the work being carried out within such developments. It was suggested that designers are already aware of the importance of achieving this “spatial inclusivity” and that ideas of exhibiting science visually and through interactive installations is a very powerful medium.
Another example of breaking down the traditional “façade” of impenetrable science is to create a ground plane capable of opening up and providing direct connection to the surrounding context. This idea of “kinetic” buildings can promote flow into the building, as well as bringing interest out of buildings to promote interaction within the public realm.
This connection can then be broadened beyond the physical edges of a building, and into community lives. Obviously outreach and exchange across all age groups is essential but bringing creativity and innovation directly into communities must be a focus. For example, the collaboration between the Olympic Park and UCL in using robotics to help allotment gardening.
Finally, promoting upskilling in the local communities is another imperative agenda as a long-term investment in community and place. Whilst it was accepted that the science industry will always compete for the best minds from around the globe, it was felt that inclusive innovation districts will only ever succeed if a community feels that they want to be part of a place and see a genuine connection to their own future.