Regional economic benefits could be stimulated by innovation and high-value-added activities. The Knowledge Districts are the breeding ground for start-ups busy with breakthroughs in fields such as the life-cycle environmental impact (also of vessels), autonomous shipping, Internet of Things, biochemicals and energy diversification (incl. in transport). They are characterized by the involvement of University research institutes and typically support new ventures originated within them. They depend on funds that are necessary for linking public and private stakeholders in a cooperative network integrating cross-sector activities, as well as to support local applied tests and pilot projects.
A quick geographical description
The Knowledge District is in a well-connected area of the city port, closer by the city than the Island of Urbanity or the Incubator building blocks. Such a typology represents a shift compared to the isolated and self-sufficient research centres that used to dominate in the past. Nowadays, this building block is more and more functionally mixed, accessible (thanks to recent micromobility solutions), and generously planted.
Observed advantages and disadvantages
In a few cases, the Knowledge District has been used as a regeneration tool by some port authorities. The advantages to locate it in the port area derive from the existence of vacant spaces (often with low market value) and the window of opportunity that is created by occupying them to train a new workforce and test new technologies. Also, its proximity to the water allows it to invest in waterborne transport.
Different situations analysed
The comparative analysis shows a diverse number of Knowledge Districts. The diversity of scales at which it can be realized is probably the most striking feature. Also, it is possible to observe its spatial relation with the other enterprises located in the area: sometimes the knowledge district is placed at the centre of the industrial ecosystem, some others it is further away and surrounded by green fields.
Analysis - the generic case: what activities can be found here?
Knowledge Districts are places where innovative companies work in collaboration with institutions, such as universities or research centres. They normally grow in areas left behind by the continuous upscaling of the port, yet close to the city centre, creating opportunities for an innovative maritime ecosystem. Indeed, since traditional port companies move farther away from the city and closer to the new terminals, new port-related activities find their way to the city-port and develop here their perfect habitat.
The proximity of the city centre is key for the existence of educational institutes and financial services, helping smaller industries with fully equipped spaces, services, and infrastructures. Additionally, the enterprises have access to a pool of students who can acquire new skills on parallel to their standard education.
The companies attached to a Knowledge District work normally inside the same (sub)sector (e.g. the blue economy) or can be even recruited to join forces inside a specific research line (e.g. the impact of digitalization and robotics on port economies). It is assumed that the mix of activities and enterprises will accelerate innovation and support crosspollination between the business community, students, and researchers.
Towards more circularity: what are the ongoing initiatives?
01 Business incubator: Dedicated to companies and start-ups innovating in the maritime and blue growth sector and supported by university instances (e.g. Greenbridge Science Park, Ostend, BE).
02 Docking station: Electrical vehicles (cars, bikes, scooters) can be charged onsite and their batteries used as temporary storage for electricity generated by PV panels and the wind turbines.
03 Maritime School: Offering continuous education and postgraduate programmes in Autonomous Maritime Systems and Life Cycle Assesment (e.g. ENSM Le Havre, FR).
04 Technical education: Technical knowledge is key for the constitution of testbeds for innovation, and in this case, it could provide specialized training in Circular Economy and Energy Transition (e.g. CNFPT - INSET Dunkirk, FR).
05 Onsite energy tests: The water movements inside the dock and the wave tank next to it are used to try out prototypes to exploit tidal and wave energy (e.g. Hydrex, Antwerp, BE).
06 Outdoor and indoor Aquaculture Facility: Crustaceans like shrimps, molluscs and fish species are grown locally as food and as feedstock for smallscale tests of new bioproducts like coatings (e.g. RODAX IMPEX SRL, Bucarest, RO).
07 Water taxi: The Knowledge District is reachable by water from the nearby locations (e.g. RDM Watertaxi, Rotterdam, NL).
08 Vertical aquaponics greenhouse: Locally generated waste water is treated onsite and residual nutrients and CO2 coming from the buildings are used in a vertical aquaponics system that allows to feed the onsite canteen and test out new plant-fish combinations (e.g. BioMakery, Koningshoeven, NL).