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Streets Ahead: What makes a city innovative?

Authors: Lizzie Crowley Lizzie Crowley

07 December 2011


Innovative cities can drive the economic recovery. Innovation – the successful commercialisation of new ideas – is the key driver of economic growth. Cities are where this happens; they support the development of new products and services by bringing businesses, people and institutions (such as universities) together. Despite this, and at odds with the localism agenda, recent government policy has sought to centralise some the key levers needed to support innovation and growth.

In the latest report as part of our Cities 2020 research programme, we consider how cities and government can use local innovation policy to drive economic recovery. High-performing cities, such as London and cities in the South East like Guildford and Cambridge, are more successful because their economies have established strong networks between the public and private sector - what we call an ‘innovation ecosystem’. In these cities, businesses and public institutions such as universities regularly work together to collectively drive growth and job creation.

The government is committed to radical localism of powers, with cities taking on powers to tailor policy according to local circumstances. Innovation policy is no different, and we need a place-based innovation policy which recognises that not all cities are the same. For example, an economy rooted in knowledge-intensive services such as software or design will need a very a different set of policy responses compared to a city experiencing the worst economic decline. Many cities outside London and the Greater South East have huge economic potential, but need the freedom to build on their own strengths, and to develop a unique appeal to businesses.

But this is not just about calling on cities to seek new powers and funding.  It is also about calling on city leaders – local businesses, universities and local politicians - to step up to the challenge. If the UK is going to harness the next wave of innovation led growth we need to make sure that we have the right institutions and networks on the ground right now. This means forging new public private partnerships, using public procurement to stimulate the demand for new products and services, and developing the right sector networks and intermediary organisations.

To read the report Streets Ahead: What makes a city innovative? please click here. For the press release, click here.

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