Chattanooga is creating a different model for innovation, the founding director of the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program said.

Bruce Katz toured the downtown area designated an innovation district before speaking to business and civic leaders at a noon luncheon.

The former federal housing official and author of several books is familiar with the city’s redevelopment. He has been an informal adviser to area officials since about the time of Jon Kinsey’s term over City Hall. His book, “The Metropolitan Revolution,” is frequently cited by Mayor Andy Berke in interviews and public statements.


“Something special is happening here,” Katz said. “You’re democratizing innovation.”

Katz believes dense, urban districts are replacing office parks in the 21st-century economy. But unlike districts in Boston and Philadelphia, Chattanooga’s district is anchored by EPB and its fiber optic smart grid instead of a top-tier research facility, he said.

The city-owned utility company has prompted the creation of small startups that are “aggregating into something very powerful,” he said in an interview.

“What’s intriguing about this community is how much of it is happening organically,” he said. “I think this is a model that many other cities could adapt and tailor.”

Chattanooga’s innovation district was announced in January. The 140-acre area is intended to drive economic development and be a place where entrepreneurs and incumbent businesses exchange ideas, resources and capital.

One of the places Katz toured is the 10-story Edney Building on Market and 11th streets. Developers purchased the property from TVA earlier this year. Renovations are underway. The Enterprise Center, which is leading plans for the city’s innovation district, will occupy one of the upper floors. The Company Lab is in the process of moving into the bottom floor.