An Innovation District in Pittsburgh?

Mike Madden, Pittsburgh Innovation District Director

Since joining InnovatePGH as Director of the Pittsburgh Innovation District in 2019, I get the question – more often than not – does Pittsburgh have an innovation district?  My answer:  Yes!  Pittsburgh indeed has all the homegrown assets of a world-class innovation district – full of opportunities that will shape the future in this region and beyond. 

Now that I see Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh from the inside out, I am in awe of how much magic is happening inside the Pittsburgh Innovation District, for which Oakland is the heart. The future of the Pittsburgh economy is being built along the Fifth and Forbes Avenues corridor. Our 1.7-square-mile Innovation District constitutes more than one-third of the entire state of Pennsylvania’s university research output. The University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University, and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) are behemoths that are shaping the future of biotech, life sciences, computer science, robotics/AI and more.  Most cities would love to just have one of these institutions, and we have three. As the Brookings Institution said in 2017: “… few cities have such a naturally occurring innovation district as Pittsburgh’s greater Oakland neighborhood.”

To date, much of the talent, research and economic output inside Oakland has been built with each of these institutions making massive investments in research, people and other critical resources. But what happens if we take a broader look at this neighborhood? How do we strategize with the Pittsburgh Innovation District’s anchor institutions to collectively deliver impactful outputs and benefits? How do we embrace manifold opportunities – so full of potential – while balancing the challenges of equity, access, housing and economic benefits for all?

I believe the responsibility of the Pittsburgh Innovation District is to seize these great opportunities by strategically developing our 1.7-square-mile footprint while also addressing the challenges of housing, transportation and access to the innovation economy.

Since the beginning of this year, the Pittsburgh Innovation District has welcomed two new robotics companies into our co-working platform, Avenu Workspaces. That’s on top of a list of software, fintech and research teams, we’ve recruited over the last two years, all of whom are bringing additional well-paying jobs to the district. New walk-to-work housing is coming thanks to Walnut Capital’s Oakland Crossings development. We have partnered with the Oakland Business Improvement District to create space for local makers and artists to showcase their work through one of Pittsburgh’s best retail destinations, Argyle Studio. Our region’s most critical infrastructure investment in years – Bus Rapid Transit – will depart Downtown and run through Oakland, making access to the district much easier for everyone. The Pittsburgh Innovation District’s parent organization, InnovatePGH, has re-launched the Talent Alliance – linking residents to training and career opportunities within the universities of the Pittsburgh Innovation District.

Some of the best of what’s next for our region is going to happen in the Pittsburgh Innovation District. Our university and regional leaders understand that the limited real estate along Fifth and Forbes Avenues must be optimally developed by building innovation assets that will help facilitate the economy of the future for the Pittsburgh region. We have students, recent graduates and researchers taking notice of an ecosystem in Pittsburgh that is more inviting, intentional and innovative than ever.

So, how do we capture the massive potential of the Pittsburgh Innovation District?  We invest.  We partner.  We build. 

As peer cities like Columbus, Baltimore, and Philadelphia invest in lab space, office space, walk-to-work housing and progressive transportation, we are doubling down on efforts to make sure that Pittsburgh is leading the trend. What’s more, we are leveraging critical public and private support to make sure all Pittsburghers – natives and newcomers – can benefit from this 1.7 square mile footprint.  Working together, we’ll make undeniably clear that yes, Pittsburgh does have an innovation district.