The Association of University Research Park’s (AURP) national conference was held at the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus where leading academics, researchers and scientists convened to share the latest trends and ideas in research park development. There is a growing need to think holistically about these incubators of innovation, research and technology. Here are the 3 top trends that arose.

1. A successful park not only transforms the university, but also the surrounding community

Gone are the days of research parks existing solely for the benefit of the university. There is huge socio-economic value to consider in the larger community context. How can a new park link once disparate places? How can it be a driver of more development in the surrounding area? Universities must begin to think in a broader context and take the community into serious account.  The concept of the research park is becoming much broader and more engaging and the research aspects of the park are being considered anchors for innovation districts.

ucf

University of Central Florida’s proposed downtown campus master plan

A great example of this model is The University of Central Florida (UCF). The university is embarking on a major transformation, establishing a twenty-acre campus in the heart of downtown Orlando. By delivering an innovative urban model that integrates anchor institutions directly into core fabric of the city, UCF Downtown will create deliberate local community impact, increase partnerships with government and business, enable greater alignment with job creation and economic development, and help foster a lively and vibrant downtown.

2. Engaging all parties in the early stages of development is key

Key stakeholders need to be engaged in the design and visioning process as early as possible. We can no longer just design in a vacuum and hope for a positive outcome. Deliberately engaging partners in the university, community organizations and government entities will ensure the complex projects are moving forward collectively—making contract negotiation easier in the long-run.

Identifying key stakeholders may begin with the university, but should ultimately extend beyond the campus boundaries to include local businesses and corporations, state and local government representatives, and neighbors in the surrounding community. The research park can serve as a catalyst for the community where the university connects with the community and industry to share ideas, collaborate and create opportunities for economic growth and general community well-being.

3. High density leads to more opportunity

How can research parks evolve from the one-off commuter complexes? Plan for density.  Locate them in areas with high density or plan for a good mix of occupancies to fill-in existing parks. More people live in cities than ever before and high-density means higher connectivity, greater opportunities for sustainability, and further development in the surrounding area such as retail and housing.

We need to take advantage of the wonderful resources research parks can be for their communities and begin to consider the hours before and after the 8-hour workday. By envisioning the 18-hour day, parks can be enhanced with many amenities that can serve the community beyond the workday.