The concept has spread like wildfire since 2014, and now Green Bay, Sheboygan, Sioux City, Rapid City, Allentown and Broken Arrow, Oklahoma are talking it up. But mostly this remains talk. Why?
Three things are needed to create exciting, inventive places. The first is talent, and as Moretti argued in “The New Geography of Jobs”, this is highly concentrated. Talent is hard to hide. If all these places had the necessary talent, people would already be going there.
Second, you need a group of leaders to make these projects work. A new chancellor tried to create a center for industry/ academic collaboration at UC Davis, a world leader in food and nutrition, but the faculty were so opposed to commercializing research that she failed.
Third, as Jonah Lehrer wrote about Building 20 at MIT, the most inventive places bring people from different backgrounds together in unexpected encounters. Contrast that with the parking lots and security badges in more institutional settings. If you really want growth, seek out the people doing cool things in under-the-radar places and do what you can to support them.