The “Hands-On” Mission of Anchor Institutions

We associate the research and commercialization of new knowledge that happens at and around universities with theoretical and highly controlled activities, when in fact a significant proportion of research pursuits involve the messy processes of designing, building, and testing physical things. After decades of moving toward computer modeling and simulation, many universities are rebuilding their “experiential” curriculum to support “learning-by-doing” academic strategies.

William Barton Rogers, MIT’s founding president, believed that education should be “both broad and useful, enabling students to discover and apply knowledge for the benefit of society ... and ... should be within easy reach of works, mills, forges, machine shops and mines.”7 Not only was it essential for the education to be experiential and hands-on; the connectivity with urban manufacturing was a founding principle of Rogers’ plan for MIT from the outset. In 2012 there were almost 200 principal investigators (Pis) undertaking research in the broad category “manufacturing, design, and product development.”8 Faculty pursuing the commercialization of materials, advanced manufacturing processes, and research-based companies with significant manufacturing components are collocating in Kendall Square to benefit from close proximity to cutting-edge research.

Since 2000, 22@ Barcelona has attracted ten universities with over twenty-five centers focused on research or training in five industry clusters: IT, medtech, design, media, and energy. These facilities are located on infill sites throughout the district. Through a deliberate integration of higher education, research, entrepreneurship, start-up business, and established businesses collocated in complementary clusters of industry, the 22@ effort has reaped significant economic development and urban regeneration results. The academic facilities in 22@ are primarily geared toward practical and professional fields, providing satellite programs for Catalan higher-education institutions that focus on training, internship, and entrepreneurship.

The presence of an anchor institution in an innovation district is essential to that district’s ability to innovate and grow new companies. However, it is the particular focus of the academic mission of the anchor on “hands on learning” and engagement with industry, specifically, that determines the degree to which an innovation economy will embrace manufacturing and fabrication as an essential component of the innovation ecosystem. Both MIT and the 22@ academic institutions and research centers embrace manufacturing activities; the extent to which they have connected the old workers and businesses with the new and the local community with global expertise has a lot to do with the redevelopment process and the specifics of planning policy.

Contrasting District Redevelopment Models

Kendall Square and 22@ Barcelona offer two starkly different redevelopment approaches: one born of an era of urban renewal (Kendall Square in the 1960s), the other a product of a more cautious era of incremental transformation (the Poblenou neighborhood of Barcelona in the 2000s). The need to build the social infrastructure into the urban context is recognized in both districts, although the history and policy in both cities has resulted in quite different contemporary urban conditions.

Kendall Square began with the hasty clearing of 29 acres in 1964 in preparation for the possibility of NASA’s electronics research facility moving to Cambridge. Although East Cambridge’s industrial areas were in decline, urban renewal resulted in the displacement of many large and small companies employing more than 2,750 people. When the NASA deal fell through the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority was left with a large and blighted area of assembled property with little developer interest. During the early ‘70s the city underwent a number of planning efforts using various appointed task forces and citizen advisory committees to create a land use vision for the area. Despite the general consensus by effected parties to create a mixed-use diverse urban district, political forces in support of focusing exclusively on job creation prevailed.9 Cambridge Center, developed by Boston Properties, was the first of several internally focused office and research buildings built on large superblocks as planned urban development (PUDs). The office/campus character of Kendall Square, with its superblocks and wide multi-lane streets continues to dominate. Nineteenth-century manufacturing—after decades of decline—was all but eliminated in Kendall Square, clearing the way for modern research-based industry. Some nineteenth-century small factories still exist at the edges of Kendall in Campbridgeport and north of Binney Street, but for the most part the large factories were eliminated. Since the 1970s a new form of urban manufacturing has emerged as part of the innovation uses surrounding MIT. Advanced manufacturing activities occur throughout Kendall but, other than a few loading bays and storage yards, there is little recognizable trace of them. Over the last four to five years an effort to increase the diversity of uses in the Kendall Square area has been ongoing. The city of Cambridge has increased the amount of housing and improved the pedestrian quality of streets and public spaces. New retail along important pedestrian corridors is giving Kendall a more vibrant urban quality.

In contrast to Kendall Square, the regeneration strategy adopted by the City of Barcelona in 2000 for its Poblenou neighborhood embraced a surgical approach to urban infill while retaining the enduring nature of Ildefons Cerda’s Eixample urban grid. Cerda’s city block has proven to be a highly flexible urban structure, accommodating just about any land use from housing and universities to markets, churches, and public plazas. Many of the blocks in Poblenou have a mixture of housing and factories. The industrial uses range from small semi-detached workshops to large factories that take up entire blocks. Before 2000 the “22A” zoning only allowed for industrial uses so it was impossible to legally apply to build or renovate any use other than industrial. The name “22@” comes from a complete makeover of the 22A zoning. In 22@ today there are a variety of development incentives and procedures that allow for a broad range of development types and program mixes. The most significant zoning change was the density up-zoning that gave private developers increased capacity in exchange for land concessions that would ensure that additional “innovation” amenities (subsidized space for uses associated with learning, research, and entrepreneurship), new social housing, and public open space would be built.

Equally as important to the character of this urban district is the Poblenou “Industrial Heritage Protection Plan” that calls for the preservation of 114 historic industrial buildings in the district. Not only does new development need to respect the historic fabric of the neighborhood, it also has to work around a plethora of existing businesses, neighborhood institutions, and existing residents. To streamline the complex development scenario, the city created a toolkit of development incentives and procedures and simplified the permitting and design review process to make it relatively easy to pursue projects of any scale, thus promoting a very diverse and incremental transformation of the district.10

The 22@ strategy is unique in that it considers urban regeneration, economic development, and social improvement together. There was from the outset a conscious goal of linking the global firms and employees that would be attracted to the district with the local businesses and communities that had called Poblenou home for decades.11 This does two things that are important. It ensures that the historic fabric of the city—the factories, work yards, and industrial structures of a time gone by—are refurbished and integrated into the new urban context. It is complicated, messy, and expensive but makes for a richer, more enduring urban environment that is attractive to the young and the talented. It also embraces the people that live and work in a neighborhood who would otherwise be displaced as the city develops physically, economically, and socially. The redevelopment strategy that embraced the historic fabric of the industrial district and engaged in a regeneration strategy that was strategic, catalytic, and incremental allowed for a gentle and inclusive transition to an innovation economy.

A comparison of historic and current urban form in Kendall Square and @22 Barcelona highlights the dramatic differences in outcomes between the redevelopment approaches

Figure 2.7 A comparison of historic and current urban form in Kendall Square and @22 Barcelona highlights the dramatic differences in outcomes between the redevelopment approaches.

Considerations of Urban Form

The redevelopment of Kendall Square, dominated by campus-like corporate offices and research facilities until recent years, has attracted global companies and nurtured the growth of an incredible innovation economy. The urban structure of big, flexible blocks has created opportunities for the city of Cambridge to accommodate very large corporate footprints in a dense, fine-grained, and walkable urban context. Conversely, large block development sites do not lend themselves to incremental small-scale change. As a result, Kendall over the years has not integrated existing small-scale enterprises, nor organically nurtured a fabric of new smallholders. In the past decade, however, through the deliberate efforts of outfits like the Cambridge Innovation Center, a burgeoning start-up scene has emerged. The city of Cambridge and MIT have more recently worked together to transform Kendall Square from its suburban and car-dominated scale of blocks and streets into a more pedestrian-scaled environment with a greater mix of residential and small-scale uses like co-working, start-up accelerators, restaurants, and retail. The streets and public spaces are evolving in classic form, with more narrow drive lanes, wider sidewalks with nice paving, more street trees, human-scaled

Manufacturing in the Innovation District 63

lighting, benches, and bike lanes. Some very comfortable pedestrian streets like 3rd Street have been refurbished in the last couple of years. The occasional loading bay or service drive is apparent but the presence of manufacturing is nearly absent in the urban fabric of Kendall Square.

The 22@ innovation district in Barcelona is a different kind of place altogether. The combination of an infill redevelopment strategy and the nuanced manifestations of the Cerda block in the Poblenou neighborhood has created a number of opportunities for a distinctive urban form that not only accommodates the flexible arrangements needed for urban manufacturing but also reflects the “working” character of its productive population. The mixed-use blocks with frequent alleyways support the “front door-back door” idea, where space is given to activities that happen in the public realm of both: along the main streets, four- to six-story housing above stores and restaurants; in the alleys and on the side streets, workshops and studios. Many blocks in the district that look at first glance to be primarily residential are on closer inspection embracing a “nesting” of workspaces and productive activities centered most frequently around the alleyway. The streets accommodate the external requirements of both activities. Similarly, the unique chamfered corners of the Cerda block, known as Hies in Catalan, were designed to provide sunlight and ventilation in the tight-knit street grid but in Poblenou have also created a very distinct “working district” condition at the corners of the blocks. Many of the older factories that face these corners have large rolling doors on their diagonal sides, turning the chamfered intersection into a “work yard” where trucks, workers, and the general public navigate the space. In addition many of these spaces do not follow the conventions of sidewalks, tree plantings, or lighting patterns, creating a quality of “unfinished,” which many would argue is essential to inspiring creativity and hands-on activities.

The urban design elements like streets, alleys, and squares define the distinctly different character and patterns of use in the two districts

Figure 2.8 The urban design elements like streets, alleys, and squares define the distinctly different character and patterns of use in the two districts.

 
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