San Diego Business Journal

As U.S. competitiveness in global markets is increasingly dependent on an economy based upon creativity and innovation, a geographic overlay reminiscent of the "economic clusters" of an earlier era becomes more critical.

Seventeen years ago, Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter, in his book titled "The Competitive Advantage of Nations," emphasized the importance of economic clusters.

They are, he said, "geographic concentrations of interconnected companies, specialized suppliers, service providers and associated institutions in a particular field that are present in a nation or region" and are central to survival in the wake of an uncertain global economy.

Porter championed the cluster idea and communities around the world eagerly embraced it. Looking back, the concept was crucial to the success of many industries and to competitive community development worldwide.

In the wake of globalization, it is becoming clear, as BusinessWeek magazine first reported, the industrial economy is giving way to an innovation and creative economy and corporations are at another crossroads.

Attributes that made them ideal for the 20th century could cripple them in the 21st; they will have to change dramatically.

Main Struggle

The main struggle of daily business will be won by the people and the organizations that adapt most successfully to the new world that is unfolding.

According to the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's Global Alliance for Cultural Diversity, "Business and culture, often seen as mutually opposed, are uniting to create an entirely new economic landscape where creativity and culture are essential raw materials of the production cycle just as coal and steel have been since the industrial revolution."

Further, they argue, creative enterprises are increasingly grouping into creative clusters, "pooling together resources into networks and partnerships to cross-stimulate activities, boost creativity and realize economies of scale."

Their efforts are aimed at "distinguishing themselves and their products by focusing on their creative skills and by building cultural value into their products."

Today, corporations and the communities they serve must put themselves at the forefront of this sweeping change in the structure of the world in which we live and work.

It is imperative that the greater San Diego region begin in earnest to attract, retain and nurture the most creative and innovative work force we know we need; build the wireless and wired broadband infrastructures we know we must; and create a new overlay of our land-use planning, too.

Great Asset

We can start this planning process by leveraging one of the region's greatest assets, Balboa Park.

A strong mayor, together with the advice and support of the Centre City Development Corp., the Arts and Culture Commission, and park leadership, need to create a compelling vision and plan for the park now; and indeed of all our region's cultural assets; and find a way to link them through modern and efficient public transit to make them the centerpiece of the region.

A few weeks ago, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that with 450,000 people expected to descend on the park for the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit through year end, the San Diego Natural History Museum is thinking of taking some unusual steps to provide extra parking, including a 75-space paid lot next to the museum, and putting up to 2,000 cars at the Arizona landfill on the park's east side.

Bravo for the museum.

However, if we remove all the parking from the park, and provide easy access with trolleys and other light rail for example, we can add even more artist and consumer-friendly attractions.

To do so would not only alleviate the problems of parking, but would represent an important first step in redesigning the region for the age of innovation in which we now live.

Balboa Park, the art and cultural jewel in San Diego's crown, offers the region prime real estate to create an exciting new "innovative and creative cluster" initiative.

With a unique 1,200-acre complex of museums, theaters, gardens, shops and restaurants, as well as the world-renowned San Diego Zoo, the park could be a Mecca for innovation and creativity serving the region.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that initiatives that promote education and infrastructure, and in the process more regional livable places with strong and vibrant innovation and creative clusters, will be the hallmarks of the most successful 21st century cities and regions.

We have talked about the future of the park almost as long as we've debated the need for a new airport or downtown library.

In 2015, the park will celebrate its 100th anniversary. It's the perfect time to begin formulating a new urban plan based on the importance of innovation and creativity.

John M. Eger, the Van Deerlin endowed chairman of communications and public policy in the School of Journalism & Media Studies at San Diego State University, is a member of the Envision San Diego partnership, a media forum for discussing public policy issues affecting the region.