5 surprising things social data reveals about the world’s most innovative neighbourhoods.

Social Data for Innovation Districts

Some neighbourhoods seem to have developed just the right formula to attract talent, enable economic growth, and encourage social sustainability; while others try hard and fail. There’s been enormous research into what secret sauce is needed to get this formula right. This has been largely spearheaded by the incredible work of the Brookings Institute who attribute value to the intrinsic qualities of cities: proximity, density, authenticity, and vibrant places organised into three essential types of place assets: physical, networking and economic.  

The bottom line is – to get a place to work, socially and economically, you need the right mix of public and private spaces, activities and events, social diversity, leadership and investment. And you need it in close proximity – close enough that people’s ideas can ‘collide’ relatively effortlessly. It’s the same philosophy that’s behind co-working spaces – where co-locating entrepreneurs leads to new innovation – but at a neighbourhood scale.

If we know that authenticity and vibrancy are critical to place success from the qualitative research, the next question is: how can we measure it?

If we know that authenticity and vibrancy are critical to place success... the next question is: how can we measure it?

At Neighbourlytics, we were naturally curious to see what social data would reveal about the patterns of use of innovation districts. We recently had the opportunity to take a peek at 10 of the world’s most successful neighbourhoods to help inform the work of Impact Investment Group.

Together we chose 10 successful neighbourhood regeneration projects from around the world. Not all of these are ‘innovation districts’ by the Brookings definition, but they’re all lively places where urban regeneration has brought about great liveability outcomes. For those paying at home and are interested, the neighbourhoods selected are below (and we’d love to hear about others so please send your suggestions):

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10 successful neighbourhoods used to benchmark characteristics of innovative neighbourhoods.

So how do people actually interact with these neighbourhoods?

Here are 5 surprising things we found from social data:

1. A critical mass of places

Each of the neighbourhoods displayed a very high density of places, and the places were spread relatively evenly across the neighbourhood (defined here as a 1km radius). This is unlike a lot of the neighbourhoods we’ve looked at over the past year where one town centre or main street is the dominant cluster. Here there was some level of activity across the neighbourhoods (1km radius) and an average of 1700 places.


The total place assets of the selected neighbourhoods show distribution of activity across the neighbourhood and a critical mass of places.

2. Ecosystem rather than anchor developments

There are multiple clusters of places, or multiple main streets within the same neighbourhood. This reveals an ecosystem of activity, not just single anchors, which is very consistent with the qualitative research to date.


The neighbourhoods have more than one major cluster of places, not just one main street.

3. Strong destinations with lots of choices

Destinations make up 60% of all of the places recorded. Destinations are defined here as places that attract people: bars, dining, food, markets, accommodation, attractions etc. These neighbourhoods showed high density of destinations with a lot of variety in what was on offer. These same neighbourhoods have been successful in attracting investment and talent, which would suggest that the destinations are a critical component of creating places people want to work and open up shop.


Level of activities and events in neighbourhoods by day.

4. Popular public spaces

Public spaces made up just 6% of recorded places, but they were among the most relevant to users of the neighbourhood. Relevant is a term Neighbourlytics has defined here is used to describe how people interact with the neighbourhood – whether they spend significant time in a place, check-in there or post about it. This suggests that public spaces are critically important to the use and function of these neighbourhoods.  


Distribution of public spaces (6% of total places on average).


How public realm features in the social chatter. In half of the neighbourhoods >30% of the chatter was about public spaces and public realm.

5. Strong place attachment

In the social chatter - the tweets, comments and images posted about each of the neighbourhoods - the dominant themes were: public realm, business activity and hobbies/craft. In many of the selected sites, one third or more of all posts are about the physical places. This shows a level of collective identity and place attachment. Looking at Neighbourlytics total data set, we see this as unusual. We don’t often see the majority of people posting about the place (usually post are more fragmented, across family, health, cooking, activities).


Places and local businesses make up the majority of posts.

Surprisingly, the patterns suggested in the social data are remarkably consistent with what the qualitative research says about innovation districts, neighbourhoods that thrive are: strong destinations, have great placemaking, lots of activity and a sense of belonging. We look forward to exploring these patterns and trends further over time.

Do you have a project you’d like us to look at?
Tell us in the comments below!

Lucinda Hartley

I’m an urban designer and social entrepreneur who has spent the past decade pioneering innovative methods to improve the social sustainability of cities, now being implemented around the world. 

As a co-founder at Neighbourlytics, I bring my social innovation and entrepreneurship strengths to harness big data, and deliver community insights that inform evidence-based urban development decisions. Neighbourlytics is backed by BlueChilli Group’s highly competitive She Starts program.