Together with the city of West Lafayette, Purdue University is embarking on a transformational placemaking project to create a new innovation community called Discovery Park District (DPD). Comprised of more than 200-plus acres, more than $1 billion in new public/private development, and spanning the next 30 years, the vision for DPD is to create a so-called “smart community” that will become a destination for students, faculty, residents, companies, innovators, and entrepreneurs wanting to live, work, and play in a unique environment on the western half of the university campus. In addition, DPD will become a “learning lab” to test new ideas that will set the stage for the next 150 years of Purdue’s legacy as a leading land grant university.

Placemaking is both an art and science. The opportunity is to create something truly special that transforms a set of building projects into places and spaces where people interact and generate experiences that have impact and consequence. An example is the new Convergence Center for Innovation and Collaboration. The opportunity for this 140,000-plus square foot professional office building is to create the “business front door” for the university where companies can locate on campus and be beside the Purdue groups that drive external sponsored research, the commercialization of Purdue technology, the Foundry for start-ups, corporate training, and access to a student workforce.

In addition to this new avenue for entrepreneurs and established companies alike to begin a relationship with the University, we also have a unique opportunity to create a development that is innovative on multiple fronts – from a future-flexible infrastructure and connected devices, to advanced energy technologies and innovative multi-modal transportation solutions.The underlying energy infrastructure as well as Internet of Things (IoT) infrastructure will need to provide the foundation for all technologies overlaying them for today as well as the next 150 years. This requires an integrated systems design for the District to ensure all separate systems – energy, “smart” technologies, transportation – are thoughtfully and technologically incorporated with an eye toward understanding how each system can impact another.  Done right, this area will become a hotbed for tech savvy companies and innovators wanting to test new innovations alongside a premier research university.

To better understand how to activate these aspects of DPD, the Purdue Research Foundation (PRF) has reached out to the Energy Systems Network (ESN) to help facilitate a two-day Innovation Workshop in mid-October. The goal of the workshop is to bring together approximately 50 people, including global subject matter experts; Purdue researchers, faculty, and staff; and corporate stakeholders to discuss big ideas and critical aspects of what makes a thriving, livable, high-quality smart community at DPD. Taking into account today’s technologies while being adaptable to future technologies and their infrastructure needs is a critical component of building a district that is truly innovative and emphasizes the “giant leaps” the university is focusing on during Purdue’s 150th anniversary.

David Broecker is chief innovation and collaboration officer of the Purdue Research Foundation.

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