Innovation districts connect Melbourne to Barcelona

Recognised as global smart cities with mutual interests in knowledge sharing and technology districts, the connections between Melbourne and Barcelona are growing deeper.

The Media-TIC building in Barcelona's innovation and technology district 22@ ​​is the work of architect and RMIT adjunct professor Enrique Ruiz Geli.

The two cities are connecting as part of the new Melbourne Innovation District – an area that's drawing from Barcelona's innovation district 22@, which also happens to be the base for RMIT's European hub.

And the transformation of the two hundred hectares of industrial land in Barcelona to a district focused on innovation and technology was recently in the spotlight as part of Melbourne's Design Week. 

David Martinez, Coordinator of 22@ in Barcelona, presented at the Melbourne Innovation District symposium run by RMIT's School of Architecture and Urban Design.

Martinez said that research and education are key factors for innovation districts. 

"Concentration of talent is crucial to boost new innovative ecosystems in addition to the role of design when approaching new solutions for a city's transformation," he said.

Martinez, who was joined at the recent symposium in Melbourne by representatives from the Cambridge Innovation Zone, shared the different ways that innovation districts can transform cities. 

"Innovation districts work as urban laboratories for testing new solutions to help cities face challenges," he said. 

"They are the avant-garde of a city – the place where the future is present."

And the ultimate goal of innovation districts?

Martinez said it's about ensuring that the benefits of urban transformation and economy improvements reach all citizens and go beyond the boundaries of the district.

He also shared some lessons on innovation districts that the city of Melbourne can take on board. 

"As Barcelona is currently starting the second phase of its 22@ project, a key lesson we've learnt has been to continuously evaluate the project's development and make necessary adjustments," he said. 

"It's also important to involve stakeholders at the very beginning."

Martinez gives the example of working with heritage buildings. 

"We worked together with both the area's residents as well as experts to come up with a list of heritage buildings in the area that we then put into a protection plan," he said.

Barcelona's innovation and technology district 22@ was recently in focus for RMIT Master of Urban Design students as part of an online student challenge. Photo: Ajuntament Barcelona, flickr, licenced under an Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0) licence.

The development of the Melbourne Innovation District is through a unique partnership with RMIT University, Melbourne University and the City of Melbourne.

Professor Martyn Hook, Dean of RMIT's School of Architecture and Urban Design, said that the Melbourne Innovation District presents real opportunities to demonstrate how two universities working with a city authority can transform a part of the city's urban fabric.

"Our partnership with the University of Melbourne and the City of Melbourne allows the dominant land owners and leaders of the knowledge economy to facilitate new ways that the city can evolve through strategy, entrepreneurship and design," he said. 

"We see ways that changes to high-level policy can result in ground-up innovation and where a piece of city can be determined by engaging with the students that occupy it."

Hook said that the recent symposium in Melbourne allowed an understanding of the unique qualities of the Melbourne precinct in comparison to 22@ in Barcelona and the Cambridge Innovation Zone.

"It also showed the similarities in aspirations of each city to make dynamic places for people and create responsive environments that can support new forms of enterprise," he said. 

Story: Karen Matthews and Karen Phelan

17 April 2018

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17 April 2018

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  • Environment
  • Science and technology

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