An emerging tech center

Oklahoma City Creating the “Power of Place”

Monday, March 7, 2016 9:00 am

by Jim Stafford

Innovation Magazine

Two decades after Oklahoma City embraced a groundbreaking initiative that remade the city through a series of pay-as-you-go projects, another initiative is emerging with implications for economic development. In October, the Brookings Institution announced that Oklahoma City is one of two pilot cities included in a study about developing an innovation district in an area of the city heavily focused on biotechnology research.

The study of the innovation ecosystems in both Oklahoma City and Philadelphia were the first announced since the establishment of the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Initiative on Innovation and Placemaking, a collaboration between Brookings and the not-for-profit Project for Public Spaces.

Brookings is working with Oklahoma City partners to determine how best to develop the Oklahoma Health Center campus and adjacent Automobile Alley into a vibrant innovation district in which people can live, work and play.   The partnership includes the Oklahoma Health Center Foundation, the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, the Presbyterian Health Foundation and the Alliance for Economic Development.

The 325-acre Oklahoma Health Center campus is located just east of downtown and across the Centennial Expressway from Automobile Alley, which is an area of small retail, restaurants and bars. Developed into a formal innovation district, the area would connect entrepreneurs, scientists and even medical students on the Health Sciences Center campus in more informal ways than currently possible, said Stephen Prescott, M.D., president of the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation (OMRF). The foundation, also part of the Brookings initiative, is located in the heart of the Health Sciences Center and employs more than 500 scientists and administrative personnel.

“One of our challenges right now is that the Health Sciences Center is not conducive to chance interactions,” Prescott said. “You don’t just bump into people. The idea here is to encourage this type of behavior by connectiveness and making places where people can meet and eat easily.”

Innovation districts also feature density in development, housing, walkability and amenities that draw people out of their laboratories and offices. Areas identified as innovation districts already are operating in several other large cities nationwide. In a landmark paper entitled The Rise of the Innovation Districts, Brookings said such areas are emerging in Boston, Brooklyn, Chicago, Portland and San Francisco, among others.

Terry Taylor, President of the Oklahoma Health Center Foundation, describes the ultimate goal of an Innovation District as “placemaking.”  The current Health Center campus is full of wide streets, unconnected buildings and no place where people can live if they choose or even casually gather.  “We are looking to make better physical places within this geographic area,” Taylor said. “We can create a commercial area that will be a people place and will have different uses, different commercial activities. There can by a downtown center, for instance, a nucleus for people to come together when the come to get their lunch, their coffee, whatever. The benefits will be whatever spins off from all of that.”

Read more about Oklahoma City's growing innovation district in Innovation Magazine.