I’ve been recently involved in the design of a new knowledge based urban development and challenged by the idea of designing a city that would encourage the creation of knowledge. In this post I want to share some of the things I have learned about Knowledge Cities, as I find this concept very interesting.
During the last decade, many cities around the world, such as Barcelona, Stockholm and Melbourne, have started giving direct attention to knowledge based urban development. This movement arose from the boom of urbanization and information and communication technologies in the late XX century. Different governmental institutions and international organizations have pursued knowledge based development and the consequently creation of Knowledge Cities (KC). Although the notion of KC has evolved significantly and adopted different names—“ideopolis”, “technopolis” or “smart city”—, its main concept keeps constant: a city that is purposefully designed to encourage the nurturing of knowledge (Edvinsson 2003).
There is compelling evidence supporting the hypothesis that knowledge intensity and growth are related. From Parkinson’s (2006) State of the Cities report, identifying human capital as an important source of economic success, to Glaeser’s (2005) argument that cities such as Boston have succeeded because of their investment in human capital—I.e. people and their skills—, there is a wealth of research suggesting that knowledge intensive businesses and/or occupations can lead to higher productivity and prosperity. High levels of skills make the workforce—and therefore the city’s economy—more flexible and adaptable, and therefore more resilient in the face of change (Glaeser, E. and Saiz, A, 2003).
Yigitcanlar et al. (2008) summarize the elements and framework needed to build a KC, based on Barcelona’s KC (2003) and Van Winden et al (2007) work:
· Knowledge base: including educational institutions and R&D activities;
· Industrial structure: affects progress and initial development of a KC;
· Quality of life and urban amenities: ensures a KC has necessary elements knowledge workers are attracted to build a strong knowledge base;
· Urban diversity and cultural mix: as an instrument in encouraging creativity;
· Accessibility: encourages and facilitates the transfer and movement of knowledge;
· Social equity and inclusion: minimises social disparity and negative tensions;
· Scale of a city: larger KCs may tend to offer a greater knowledge pool, greater diversity and choice for knowledge workers and businesses.
For the implementation of all previous elements, a strong organising capacity is fundamental, as well as a good relationship with academic institutions (Yigitcanlar et al. 2008). Universities are seen as “engines of innovation” which create talent and foster relationships and connectivity between citizens within the knowledge pool (Martinez-Fernandez and Sharpe, 2008). Technology and communication are fundamental to ensuring the success of a KC (Yigitcanlar et al. 2008). High level of communication, facilitated through high levels of technology, assures that citizens have equitable access to education, training and services which strengthens human capital. In a knowledge economy, particularly concerning knowledge intensive businesses, technology, communication and transport are integral to the ongoing development of this facet of the economy (Wong et al., 2006). Moreover, cultural infrastructure and community play a key role in the success of KCs. First, because knowledge workers are drawn to places of cultural vibrancy and variety (Florida, 2002). And second, because the values associated with cultural elements of the city foster creative energy and draw in the innovative knowledge workers.
All this has direct implications in the physical configuration of the city. Spatial relationships provide opportunities and facilitate relationships and knowledge sharing. KBUD and clustering of knowledge institutions provide opportunities for interaction, building of relationships and the facilitation of cross fertilisation of ideas (Larsen, 1999). Melbourne addressed the planning of its KC by shifting towards a denser redevelopment of the inner city, which “may require a substantial change in housing preferences and lifestyles” (p. 15). This change was part of the new urban containment policy to improve the quality of life and diverse cultural texture and lifestyle options within the city (Yigitcanlar et al. 2008). But the key strategic step was the identification of nine areas were Melbourne had competitive strengths in scientific research: knowledge precincts. These knowledge precincts were areas surrounding the main university campuses with special local land use regulations in favour of high-tech industries, with links to a nearby university. They provide opportunities for linkages, technology diffusion and cross fertilisation between high-tech businesses, academia and public sector R&D facilities (Yigitcanlar et al. 2008).
Florida, R. (2002). The rise of the creative class and how it’s transforming work, leisure, community and everyday life. New York: Basic Books.
Florida, R. (2005). The flight of the creative class: the new global competition for talent. London: Harper Collins.
Glaeser, E, ‘Smart Growth: Education, Skilled Workers and the Future of Cold Weather Cities’ in Rapaport Insitute Policy Briefs, April 2005, p.1
Glaeser, E. and Saiz, A, (2003) ‘The Rise of the Skilled City’, NBER Working Paper No. W10191
Larsen, K. (1999). Learning cities: the new recipe in regional development. The OECD Observer. 217/218, 73-77
Parkinson, M. et al (2006) State of the English Cities
Van Winden, Berg, W., van Den, L. and Peter, P. (2007). European cities in the knowledge economy. Urban Studies 44(3): 525-549
Wong, C., Millar, C. and Choi, C. (2006). Singapore in transition: from technology to culture hub. Journal of Knowledge Management. 10(5): 79-91.
Yigitcanlar, T., Velibeyoglu, K. and Baum, S. (Eds.) (2008a). Knowledge-based urban development: planning and applications in the information era, Hershey, PA: IGI Global.
Yigitcanlar, T., Velibeyoglu, K. and Baum, S. (Eds.) (2008b). Creative urban regions: harnessing urban technologies to support knowledge city initiatives, Hershey, PA: IGI Global.