Cities Must Prioritise Planning, Placemaking and Promotion to Become Successful Centres of Innovation

New ULI report lays out a comprehensive strategy for cities to build their innovation capacity

DALLAS (26 October 2016) – A new ULI report lays out a comprehensive strategy to transform cities into centres of innovation. Entitled Building the Innovation Economy: City-Level Strategies for Planning, Placemaking and Promotion, the report emphasises that optimising land use, placemaking, and creating a brand are essential components of developing an innovation economy within a city.

The report is informed by a collaboration between ULI and the city of Rotterdam, which is seeking to foster an innovation ecosystem as part of the modernisation of its economy and the re-development of its central station area and the port lands. It partnered with ULI to organise a one-day workshop that brought together an international group of practitioners working on urban innovation districts to help devise a longer-term strategy for the city to build its innovation capacity. It also draws on the different approaches taken in three cities (Munich, San Diego and Tel Aviv), which are featured—along with Rotterdam—as separate case studies. The report builds on ULI’s growing body of work on technology and the impact of the innovation economy on real estate.

“Innovation is the next industrial revolution,” said ULI Europe CEO Lisette van Doorn. “In order to make their economies future-proof, cities must facilitate innovation. Cities that can attract the new generation of tech-powered industries and firms will be able to grow a new base of jobs, better adjust to the process of industrial change, and leverage technology to meet future challenges and become more resilient. This report provides valuable insights into the process and ingredients required for cities that seek to accommodate more of the innovation economy.”

The report recommends that cities develop a long-term strategy for building an innovation economy, which prioritises optimising land use and placemaking, as well as the building the city’s innovation brand. A well-executed strategy will create the right conditions and mindset for a city to stimulate talent loyalty, increase private sector demand, and facilitate the creation of innovation districts by firms and investors.

Innovation districts depend on a high quality of life and place in the wider city, with a distinct offer of workspaces, amenities, density, regulations, and public environments. The report lays out several ways for cities to optimise land use and placemaking. Cities can support innovation district development and flexibility, a practice exemplified by the flexible, mixed-use zoning plan of Herzliya, an innovation district in Tel Aviv. In addition, the report recommends that cities use infrastructure and land as a platform for experimentation. One example of this kind of experimentation is Rotterdam’s “lab on the street,” which serves as a testing ground for different types of pavement.

According to the report, cities must also use marketing and promotion to ensure that the processes and changes that come with innovation are visible and understood by the public. Cities such as Tel Aviv and Munich have bolstered their reputation as centres for innovation by promoting a city-wide innovation story and cultivating neighbourhoods with distinctive names, authentic character, rich diversity and a high quality of public space. Similarly, San Diego has used local art and culture—in the form of a pop-up art show—to communicate the values and ambition of its IDEA District.

“For Rotterdam, the innovation economy is key to creating additional jobs, enhancing our international visibility, and encouraging new ways of thinking when it comes to city management,” said Ronald Prins, Director of Spatial and Economic Development for the City of Rotterdam. “The strategy we developed with ULI will allow us to better foster the growth of innovation districts within the city.”

“This report exemplifies ULI’s commitment to creating thriving communities and sharing best practices,” said ULI Netherlands Chair Bob van der Zande. “The lessons from this report can help not only Rotterdam, but other cities that want to build their innovation capacity.”

To download the report and case studies, please click here.

About the Urban Land Institute
The Urban Land Institute is a nonprofit education and research institute supported by its members. Its mission is to provide leadership in the responsible use of land and in creating and sustaining thriving communities worldwide. Established in 1936, the institute has almost 40,000 members worldwide representing all aspects of land use and development disciplines. For more information, please visit, follow us on Twitter, or join our LinkedIn group.