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Neighborhood Vitality Index for Innovation Districts

According to Katz and Bradley[1], innovation districts are geographic zones that cluster and connect leading-edge anchor organizations (universities, R&D centers) and innovative firms with supporting and spin-off entities, business incubators, mixed-use housing, office and retail space, high-tech amenities, and high-quality public transportation, among other perks. The objective of such a location is to boost an ecosystem where knowledge, ideas, and financial resources interact in such an aligned manner that community wealth grows as synergies rise.

In most cases, the benefits of implementing these geographic areas are measured by the economic impacts they bring. These include indicators such as dollars invested, jobs created, anchor companies established, square feet constructed, and taxes paid, among others. However, the neighborhood vitality of these new or revamped communities is seldom estimated. Therefore, I propose to design and implement a neighborhood vitality index for innovation districts to complement the conventional economic indicators by also measuring the following broad categories: quality of jobs, wellbeing, green living, fairness, and quality of health.

Neighborhood Vitality Indices

In the United States, the Urban Institute led the creation of the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership (NNIP). This partnership started working in the middle of the 1990’s with six other non-profit organizations, including the Urban Institute as its leader. Within the NNIP, more than 20 cities in the US have developed systems for measuring neighborhood well-being[2]. Although each participating city developed its indicators considering the data collected, there are several comparable measures across all of them that provide valuable information for policymakers. Usually, participating towns collect indicators in several areas such as health, crime, demographic features, housing, local economy, physical environment, and education, among others.

There are many additional initiatives around the world, such as the Cleveland Area Network for Data Organizing, the Neighborhood Statistics and the English Indices of Deprivation, both located in the UK, the Toronto Neighborhood Profiles Initiative, as well as dozens more in other countries.

What to do then?

Considering Fainstein’s Just City principles[3], I believe that city leaders need to examine other determinants of growth that complement GDP (or economic growth) to measure the success of innovation districts. A set of broad indicators that appears relevant is the one described by the New Economics Foundation[4].

First of all, there is a need to measure the proportion of jobs that pay as little as to afford a decent standard of living. Today, employment statistics only describe what portion of the population maintains a job. However, the quality and the possibilities it creates are not usually measured. This new information should be incorporated to execute plans that boost the demand for better-paid labor by improving the quality and relevance of education, developing appropriate public infrastructure, and attracting higher value-added companies to the area, among other actions.

Second, there is a need to estimate well-being as a function of how happy people are with their lives. The first step is acknowledging that enhancing the quality of life of all individuals in a neighborhood must be the final goal of any public officer.

Third, the area must estimate its lifestyle-related carbon emissions while contrasting them to the goals set in the Paris Climate Deal. In that sense, the United Nations[5] calculates that between 67 and 76 percent of all harmful greenhouse emissions come from cities. Consequently, promoting the use of renewable energy, efficient construction techniques, and zero-emission transportation, among other factors, are fundamental in developing a healthy community within innovation districts.

Fourth, there is an impending need to measure community fairness inside innovation districts. A study led by the International Monetary Fund[6] states that if the income portion of the top twenty percent increases, economic growth declines in the medium term, implying that all the population does not equally share the benefits of this growth. In contrast, a boost in the income share of the lowest 20 percent produces higher economic growth in the long term.

Finally, it is essential to consider the quality of health of the population, especially the relevance of preventive health to avoid unnecessary deaths and diseases, as well as the current mental health situation.

Developing a set of vitality indicators

Interested in the indicators for innovation areas proposed by the author? Continue reading the article by downloading the 2018 University Industry Innovation Magazine Issue 1 (p. 12)

[1] Katz, B., Bradley, J. (2014). The Rise of Innovation Districts. Brookings Institution Press. Retrieved from:

[2] Dobilas, G; Battye Fraser. (2005). Measuring Neighborhood Vitality. GHK International. Retrieved from:

[3] Fainstein, S. (2010). Toward an Urban Theory of Justice. In the Just City. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Pages 1-21.

[4] Wallis, S. (2016, April 19). Five measures of growth that are better than GDP. Retrieved from

[5] United Nations Habitat. (2016). World Cities Report 2016. Retrieved from:

[6] International Monetary Fund. (2015). Causes and Consequences of Income Inequality: A Global Perspective. IMF. Retrieved from:


Alejandro Delgado – Project Leader – Disruptive Technologies at Ruta N

Image credit: RutaN

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