Undergraduate and graduate programmes offered by the University iuav of Venice:

Why are old places becoming new locations for creativity and innovation? How network society and digital technology are reshaping location choice and what it means for the regeneration of historic cities.


seminario di Laurie Zapalac

MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning


mercoledì 16 maggio 2012

Badoer, aula Tafuri

ore 15.30


nell’ambito del dottorato in

pianificazione territoriale e politiche pubbliche del territorio



In the last fifty years, the value of historic districts has been considered mostly in relationship to tourism, the economic impact of building trades, the influence of district designation on residential real estate value, or the potential to be gained from wholesale demolition and redevelopment.  Few have considered, why in the era of digital technology and an increasingly networked society, historic places might hold new value as dynamic environments that support new forms of productivity.  Valuable critiques by scholars affirm the need to rethink how the built environment supports work practices as more activities rely on the acquisition and application of knowledge and the creative problem-solving skills of the individual worker.


This study focuses on understanding: 1) what types of firms are locating within historic urban environments, 2) what qualities of the built environment are most important as reflected in location choice and 3) how these qualities are perceived by firm representatives to impact their productivity.  I analyze firm attribute data (sourced from ESRI Business Analyst), together with data about the urban environment at the building and district level (sourced from a number of different agencies) for selected central districts in three historic maritime cities:  Venice, Amsterdam and Boston.  I also analyze historic land use (based upon geocoded historic maps) together with field documentation of contemporary conditions and uses of the built environment; data collected from a sample of firm representatives provides additional insight on work practices and perceptions of the value of the built environment. 


Preliminary analysis suggests that ability to classify firms into three groups: visual/design oriented creative firms, scientifically and technically creative firms, and “place-oriented” creative firms, based upon what they do and how they make use of place knowledge in their work practices, and in turn reflecting how they perceive the importance of the built environment.  These findings both confirm and diverge from findings in previous studies. 


This research will introduce a new method for understanding and evaluating the value of the built environment in relationship to productivity in the 21st century, working at a refined scale (down to the level of the individual building) that has only recently become possible with access to more fine-grained data and well as advances in geocoding and georeferencing technology.  It has the potential to be useful for urban policy and regeneration strategies, both in the cities being studied and in other historic urban environments, in that it sheds light on what actually happens in the process of adaptive use. This research is also likely to affirm urban design principles relevant to the shaping of new cities desiring to develop their own “recipes” for fostering creativity and innovation.