Research Areas

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URENIO research and provision of services focus on the technological development of cities and regions; the overall research effort of URENIO concerns the ability of cities and regions to create environments supporting R&D, innovation, human skills and intelligence. In particular we focus on the following four closely related themes:

  • Cities and regions of innovation, with emphasis on the internationalisation of cities, knowledge-based regional development, typology of territorial systems of innovation, and application of new technologies to cities and regions.
  • Innovation ecosystems: clusters, technopoles, science parks: Planning innovation-led clusters, technology and science parks, innovation centres, technology districts, high-tech estates, incubators, and spin-off support.
  • Innovation strategy development: Management of regional systems of innovation. Application and dissemination of cost-cutting innovations. Foresight. Dissemination of innovation technologies (benchmarking, technology watch, product innovation). Measurement of innovation performance.
  • Digital innovation spaces and intelligent cities: Design and development of digital innovation environments. Intelligent clusters and technology parks. Living Labs. Intelligent city strategies. Applications for collective intelligence, technology transfer, collaborative new product development, and global product promotion. Innovation ecosystems and the future Internet.

Cities and Regions of Innovation

Urban and regional development at the beginning of the 21st century is characterised by a shift towards technology, innovation and selective urban development, similar to the shift, immediately after the Second-World-War, towards mass industrialisation and intensive urbanisation.

Interest in the contribution of technological innovation to urban and regional development peaked after 1980. It was further aroused by economic geography research conducted on the industrial districts of central Italy and the west coast of the USA, and the planning of large technopoles in Japan. These new industrial and technological complexes, situated on the outskirts of cities or in entirely new locations, brought to light a series of factors which were of particular significance for development at the end of the twentieth century, such as, the geographical polarisation of innovation, production flexibility, research and technology dynamics, spin-offs, just-in-time delivery systems and productive co-operation networks. Since then, technology and more specifically technological innovation have been a fixed point of reference in the analysis and planning of cities and regions, with rapid developments not only in the theoretical field (regional innovation systems, learning regions, and intelligent cities) but also in the field of regional policy and urban and regional planning.

The contradiction between the leading role of technological innovation in regional development and its geographical polarisation sustains the gap between core and peripheral regions, and guides the contemporary efforts of regional policy and planning.

Territories of technological innovation

Innovation Ecosystems: Clusters, Technopoles, Science Parks

This research orientation covers projects dealing with the development and planning of clusters, technology poles, science and technology parks, innovation centres, incubators and spin-off support policies.

A number of planning and policy models were based on the industrial district theory, seeking to create physical spaces that can reproduce the favourable conditions of technology districts in terms of inter-firm co-operation, innovation and technology development. These attempts include (1) providing support for clusters in traditional or new industries, (2) creating knowledge-intensive clusters in central-city areas that host producer services, financial services, company headquarters, new tertiary activities like software and multimedia, (3) constructing science and technology parks that host R&D institutes, innovative firms, and technology transfer organisations, and (4) supporting larger technopoles combining science and technology parks, industrial districts, and clusters of producer services. These physical spaces favour the spatial agglomeration of technology-based companies, R&D institutes, and other facilities, and provide a good environment for communication, networking and technology co-operation.

The real challenge of science parks and planned technopoles is to create self-sustained innovation processes such as those found in technology districts. Four types of relationships sustain innovation within these spaces: (1) the spatial agglomeration of activities, (2) the links with the universities or research institutes, (3) the venture capital funds supporting spin-offs and new start-ups, and (4) the technology partnering between firms.

Science and technology park main components

Innovation Strategy Development

This research orientation focuses on the initiatives of European regions to develop innovation strategies for the creation of regional competitive advantage based on knowledge and technological learning.

At the beginning of the 1990s, the European Commission introduced a new family of policy schemes having a strategic view on technology and innovation at the regional level. Regional Innovation and Technology Transfer Infrastructures and Strategies (RITTS), Regional Technology Plans (RTP), and Regional Innovation Strategies (RIS) provide co-finance and guidance to regional governments to undertake an assessment of their regional innovation potential, and define strategies that promote the cooperation and capabilities of the small firm sector, the research and technology community, and the public authorities.

Typical deliverables of RIS are: (1) the description of strengths and weaknesses of the regional innovation system, both at the supply and demand sides, (2) the definition of a plan for regional technological development based on the consensus of the main actors in the public and private sector, to be implemented through the Community Support Framework, Community initiatives, and other investments from the public and the private sector, (3) the organisation of a system for continuous monitoring and evaluation of innovation and the new economy at the regional level.

Regional system of innovation

Digital Innovation Spaces and Intelligent Cities

Digital spaces have opened a new strand in the thinking and practice of innovation. The fact that innovation processes can be carried out on digital space has led to the creation of numerous types of virtual innovation environments. An extremely rich literature focuses on processes of innovation and their digital dimension. Here, the interest lies on how these  processes can be triggered on a virtual space and be used by the most distant organisation and user.

Intelligent cities are spatial entities which offer an environment for technological innovation based on clusters and institutions for R&D, product and process innovation, while they  are endowed with a digital capacity to manage and diffuse knowledge and technology. Intelligent may be a technology park having developed a digital interface to sustain technology transfer; an industrial district with IT infrastructure supporting virtual  innovation chains and global inter-firm transactions; a technopole or an innovative region in which learning functions are actualised on digital spaces. In this sense, an intelligent city is an environment of learning and innovation on physical, institutional and digital levels. At the physical level, intelligence is linked to collaboration within a community of people for learning, experimentation, knowledge and technological development. At the digital level, it is the capacity of the same community for knowledge management, technology diffusion, and innovation based on a digital interaction, locally and globally. A more efficient urban system is thus created, in terms of innovation, operation, and living conditions.