B+H Partners with ULI Toronto to Explore the Future of Innovation Districts

From the City of Melbourne to the City of Toronto, an international panel discussed the impact of the technology sector on our cities and what this all means within the context of Toronto’s recent ‘tech boom’

July 4, 2019

B+H recently partnered with the Urban Land institute (ULI) Toronto to convene a panel discussion on the role of innovation districts in shaping the future of our cities. Hosted in the Autodesk Toronto Showroom in the MaRS Phase II Tower, a B+H-designed building in the MaRS Discovery District, the event gathered a cross-section of industry including real estate and development, healthcare, education, venture capital, tech startups, and government.

The panel was comprised of: Patrick Fejér, Senior Design Principal at B+H, who has more than two decades of experience spanning a diverse range of high-profile urban developments around the world; Candice Faktor, Managing Partner, Faktory Ventures, an early stage fund investor in exponential technologies and network effects; Randal Froebelius, Vice President of Real Estate, MaRS Discovery District, a key player in the realization of the MaRS Discovery District, the largest urban innovation hub in North America; and Michelle Fitzgerald, Chief Digital Officer, City of Melbourne, who is responsible for leading the city’s Smart City and innovation agenda. The panel was moderated by Catherine Osborne, writer and editor with an expertise in architecture, urbanism and design and former Editor-in-Chief of Azure.

As the technology industry continues to transform cities and economies around the world, it’s quickly becoming a race to the top to attract, and keep, the ‘unicorns’ of tomorrow. According to Startup Genome’s Global Startup Ecosystem Report, Toronto is listed at #13 of the Top 30 Global Startup Ecosystems, and Melbourne is quickly emerging as a powerful tech and innovation economy. B+H wanted to explore this phenomenon and how it is catalyzing the growth of cities, and influencing new development, infrastructure and built form.

What are the community-based urban development strategies that are key to the success of attractive innovative hubs? How do we futureproof our urban cores to not only be prosperous, but also affordable, livable, diverse and beautiful? The panel discussed how innovation districts can be catalysts for positive and inclusive change, whether through the creation of planned innovation ecosystems or by simply encouraging grassroots clusters that organically emerge. The panel also discussed the challenges and opportunities cities are responding to now in order to drive the innovation industry forward and thrive within this new economic landscape.

Commenting on how the workplace has transformed within the past five years and what is attracting the next generation of talent, Patrick Fejér said, “We’re seeing a dramatic shift in less attention to private space and more attention to collaborative areas where we can facilitate chance encounters within the workplace. This has now extended outward to the building itself. Where we previously used to measure success by how many people we can populate on a floorplate, the focus is now on what events can transpire within, and what amenities can we provide to promote collaboration and foster a sense of community. All key ingredients to a successful innovation hub.”

Candice Faktor, responding to accessibility and the high cost of living in the urban centres where Innovation Districts exist said, “The co-working concept has always fascinated me because it changed the way startups accessed space and allowed them to be agile at an organizational level. Through my advisory work with Node Living, a co-living rental concept, we are reimagining living spaces for the mobile millennial talent who want to work in innovation hubs but can’t afford to live in the city. Necessity is the best driver of innovation, and the co-living concept takes the best aspects of connection, community and the sharing economy and makes them accessible to millennial talent, transforming how we traditionally use space to create more opportunity.”

Reflecting on the MaRS Discovery District’s journey and how it has influenced Toronto’s innovation culture, Randal Froebelius said, “What has changed between when MaRS was first founded and now is that there really wasn’t anything like this in 2005. The founders took a real leap of faith and created something the world hadn’t seen before. MaRS has greatly contributed to defining what the innovation district space is, and it has since become a network effect that continues to evolve. The new MaRS Waterfront Innovation Centre currently being developed in partnership with Menkes Developments is a great example of how Toronto has room for more than one innovation district. Now we’ll have the opportunity to provide even more spaces for the innovators that want to be a part of the MaRS ecosystem.”

Michelle Fitzgerald, commenting on Melbourne’s own innovation trajectory, said “The growth we’re seeing in Melbourne’s $2.2 Billion startup market, particularly in life sciences and ed-tech, is from our strong education sector and the student talent emerging from our universities. This has been a strong draw for startups – both local and international – and they are choosing to stay in Melbourne because of the talent and its livability – access to transportation, parks, education and culture. Our primary focus is on making great places for people to live, work and play, and by investing in the urban realm we are making the sum of the parts much greater than the whole.

*Note: all quotes have been summarized for clarity

View the full video of the discussion: