Brookings Institution and Project for Public Spaces release strategy for Oklahoma City Innovation District

Tuesday, April 18, 2017 9:00 am

by Grace Palmer

Washington, D.C. – Today, a new report outlining a growth strategy for Oklahoma City’s emerging innovation district, an area encompassing the Oklahoma Health Center and Automobile Alley, was released by the Brookings Institution and Project for Public Spaces’ Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Initiative on Innovation and Placemaking.

The culmination of an 18-month study, the report assesses the Oklahoma City metro region economy and offers recommendations on industry innovation, placemaking, and inclusive growth practices to strengthen the innovation district and the broader region. It will be publicly unveiled at an Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce event from 9am-12pm CT at the Skirvin Hotel Grand Ballroom.

The report, “Positioning for Growth: Advancing the Oklahoma City Innovation District” finds that, with the right investments, the Oklahoma City innovation district has the potential to become a major center of gravity for regional innovation and economic development.

Innovation districts are concentrations of research-oriented anchor institutions, companies, intermediaries, cultural amenities, community-oriented public spaces, and retail and residential space. Bounded roughly by Robinson and Lottie Avenues to the west and east and 4th and 13th Streets to the south and north, the emerging Oklahoma City innovation district is a 1.3-square-mile area encompassing both the Oklahoma Health Center and the vibrant commercial corridor of Automobile Alley.

For Oklahoma City’s innovation district to succeed, the region’s public and private leaders must better capitalize on the area’s dominant industries and invest in high-quality places where research institutions, firms, and talent concentrate and connect. Furthermore, they should explore how regionally-competitive industries, such as healthcare and energy, can converge to form new businesses and fields. At the same time, city leaders should improve the region’s ability to attract a talented workforce and to provide training and employment opportunities for area residents who are not currently connected to the innovation economy.

As an existing employment hub, the home of major anchor institutions and research assets, and a site ripe for placemaking interventions, the innovation district could propel the Oklahoma City region forward. To this end, this report recommends four multifaceted strategies around which innovation district institutions, firms, and civic leaders should rally city and regional stakeholders:

  • Establish an Oklahoma Center for Energy and Health Collaboration that serves as the physical and programmatic umbrella for innovation and applied research within these and other sectors. The center should house a translational research and commercialization office for crosscutting industry research applications.
  • Implement a technology-based economic development and entrepreneurship effort within the innovation district tasked with overseeing strategic business development, technology business attraction, marketing, and regional cluster development between entrepreneurs, small and medium-sized enterprises, and large firms. 
  • Create a denser, more active, and better-connected mixed-use urban environment in and around the innovation district. Leaders should undertake intentional land use and real estate developments, implement new placemaking efforts, strengthen connections between the Health Center and Automobile Alley, improve bike and pedestrian routes within the Health Center, and make the innovation district more porous and connected to residential neighborhoods.
  • Form a standing committee on diversity and inclusion charged with overseeing the design of strategies aimed at forging better economic, social, and physical connections between the innovation district and the underserved communities surrounding it. The committee should focus on issues such as education, workforce development, entrepreneurship, and placemaking and neighborhood development.

To operationalize these strategies, district leaders should establish a new type of innovation district governance entity that gives voice to the district’s narrative, defines its vision, and helps it act as a unified place to have maximum collective impact on the city and region. 

With detailed analyses of the Oklahoma City region’s challenges and opportunities and assessments of best practices in other cities and innovation districts, “Positioning for Growth: Advancing the Oklahoma City Innovation District” offers a clear strategy for Oklahoma City leaders to forge a stronger economy and community.

The Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Initiative on Innovation and Placemaking is a collaboration between the Brookings Institution and Project for Public Spaces. It aims to catalyze a new cross-disciplinary approach to city building that integrates the reinforcing benefits of vibrant public spaces, innovative urban economies, and inclusive growth.

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