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Photo credit: Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt Federal Building, Portland; SERA Architects and Cutler Anderson Architects; photo by Jeremy Bittermann

Cities as a Lab: Are You Part of the Innovation City?

By Tatyana Brown, Manager, Public Policy

Amid diminishing resources and public health challenges, this is America’s time to seize unique opportunities. The American Institute of Architects’ Cities as a Lab initiative aims to tap the power of design to foster local innovation and meet Americans' changing needs. In 2013 its insights, case studies, and partnerships will offer policy and design solutions for buildings and neighborhoods that help to grow jobs, attract investment, and design next-generation economies.

Urban America currently accounts for almost one-fifth of the world’s GDP, but our cities are entering an era of unprecedented competition in the ever more global, knowledge-based economy. Population demographics are also no longer working in America’s favor. If our communities are to thrive, they need to be great places. We must design new incubators of creativity and reconfigure our cities to attract top talent with transformational spaces.

The City 2.0 – what makes it an “Innovation City”? Regardless of its size, it is intelligently designed to foster connections, create energy, and inspire creativity. Its adaptive reuse and the revitalization of older mixed-use neighborhoods attract millennial entrepreneurs and technology-based companies. At the same time it plans to harness the economic potential of America’s aging population. With livable, less car-centric communities, the Innovation City enables citizens to age in place, create new businesses, and serve as experienced mentors to emerging entrepreneurs. Its flexible ordinances and codes enable communities to create temporary amenities and build flexible, productive new spaces that promote the exchange of ideas and resources.

Vancouver, Amsterdam, San Francisco – Innovation Cities across the globe are transforming the built environment into a lab for change. They might be wired with “smart” technologies – or not yet. But they are opening municipal data to entrepreneurs and fusing design thinking with high-tech innovation. What if… we all join them?

Can we find ways to collaborate, partner, and innovate? Learn more and share with us your perspective.

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This content is published by the AIA Government and Community Relations Department, 1735 New York Ave., NW, Washington, DC, 20006. To contact the AIA’s Government & Community Relations team, send an email to


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