Cities incubate creativity and serve as labs for innovative ideas and policies. One such idea that’s gained popularity in cities around the world is the Innovation District. These districts are creative, energy-laden ecosystems with a focus on building partnerships across sectors. Innovation districts attract entrepreneurs, established companies, and leaders in all walks of life, and provide them with the space to create unexpected relationships and find transformative solutions.
Cities as far afield as Toronto, Singapore, and Barcelona have invested in Innovation Districts to solve new and complex problems, which demand increased collaboration to understand the latest trends, and address problems with solutions that are more and more frequently found at the boundaries between different fields.
It’s not all metropolises, though. Many small to medium sized cities have built vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystems that can help them compete with large cities for talent and companies. Part of their strategy is to recruit “boomerang” workers who grew up in a small city, moved to a larger metro for college or a job, and many now return to raise families.
This strategy has worked well for the Town of Lincoln. In 2020 city officials converted unused office space into a new co-working facility, where their plan for a “Center for Agriculture Excellence and Innovation” really came to life. Students from Brock University, the University of Guelph and local agriculture experts work from the space through a series of partnerships that enable entrepreneurs of all experience levels take a shot at getting their company off the ground.
Whereas cities like Waterloo, Ont., have seen growth through new digital technologies and quantum computing, the Niagara region has leveraged its agricultural expertise to prototype solutions that will “help feed the cities of the future”, says Wendy Randelle Founder of Aquapontics. Randelle was still a student when she started her first farm. Aquapontics raises fish and plants together in an ecologically balanced system. The high-volume production of leafy greens, herbs, fruiting crops, and fish takes place in a recirculating system. The farms use a fraction of the water compared to traditional agriculture and can grow food continuously year-round.
This is just one of many examples of the agricultural innovation taking place in the Region of Niagara since making investments into building their Innovation District. Other activities include consulting with towns and urban centers across the country to enhance Canada’s food resilience as the countries weather becomes increasingly more unpredictable.