Online event: ‘Innovation districts are dealing with the COVID-19 challenge’

COVID-19 is posing new and unprecedented challenges to the creation of innovation districts, delegates heard at Real Asset Media’s Innovation Districts, Winning Cities & Investment Briefing, which was held online this week.

‘The successful innovation districts are based on cooperation, but it is a challenge to create a vibrant collaborative space with social distancing in place,’ said Ann Allen, Executive Director of Estates & Commercial Services, University of Glasgow. ‘It is a big challenge that needs to be addressed, but it is also an opportunity for the sector to do placemaking differently, so it can make people feel safe. 

In future there will be more caution on co-working spaces and people coming together in large groups, she said: ‘We can start learning from the rest of the world, especially Asia, on how to use and organise space differently, which is something developers will also need to think about.’

The pandemic is also having some positive side-effects in encouraging collaboration and sharing of resources.

‘Historically, collaboration was seen within buildings, in a kind of silo approach, with a wealth of talent locked in,’ said Anna Stamp, Interim Programme Director, Edinburgh BioQuarter. ‘The challenge was connecting the buildings and getting together across sites. Now that we have seen the coming together of science for COVID-19, a lot of barriers have been broken down’. 

It is now important to keep this level and importance of collaboration among different groups, harnessing the positive example and ‘encouraging it from a built environment point of view,’ she said.

Views among delegates were mixed. The results of a snap poll conducted at the briefing show that 35% of respondents believe that the current health crisis will create a significantly larger focus on life sciences and innovation districts, while 58% believe it will be larger but not significantly so and only 7% think the focus will be the same or less after the pandemic. 

In the short term, technology is coming to the rescue. 

‘We need to find blended ways of communication, mixing technology with place,’ said Allen. ‘The organic way in which placemaking happens needs to be choreographed, we need some kind of experience master planning to get the vibrancy required.’.

Technology is a help and a solution to the short-term problems caused by pandemic. ‘We wanted to build a community in Glasgow, but there can be no events because of the crisis so we are using podcasts, blogs and webinars,’ said Ann-Marie Campbell, AMC Programme Director, Glasgow City Innovation District. ‘We are just reaching out to people in a different way’.