Boston’s Innovative Districts — Then & Now

Recently, Jim Heppelmann (President and CEO of PTC, the company I currently work for) was featured in an article in the Boston Globe talking about PTC’s exciting move to the Boston Seaport, A.K.A. The Innovation District.

The article also featured the story of how Boston’s Mayor, Marty Walsh, came to PTC for a visit and spoke to the employees at one of our famous socials. He praised the company and the employees for making the move to Boston’s newest up and coming hub for business and cultural innovation!

And the seaport is pretty much an amazing new innovation district at that—especially with all the incredible simultaneous construction projects going on down there.

However, it might be interesting to take quick walk down memory lane to reminisce about Boston’s other innovation districts, of the past.

Let’s go all the way back to Colonial times.

Over by where North Street meets Moon Street is Paul Revere’s House. This historical landmark is located in Boston’s North End district, now synonymous with the Italian-American community. However, back in the late 17th Century, this area was well known for it’s silversmiths (like Paul Revere, an innovator of his time), blacksmiths, artisans, journeymen, and laborers. For a city that was founded in 1630, this part of Boston became its innovation district of that time.

Fast forward through the Industrial Age which affected the entire world, Boston included, and you will see that another innovation district presented itself. This time on the Boston waterfront known as Boston Harbor—part of which is where today’s Boston Seaport Innovation District now resides.

For over two hundred years, Boston Harbor, which compromises all the famous Boston wharves such as Long WharfRowes WharfFish PierCommonwealth Pier, and Union Wharf to name a few, were the gateways to shipping, railroads, international commerce, jobs, markets, construction, and of course innovation. Without the wharves of the 18th and 19th Centuries, Boston could not have grown to the commercial, financial, cultural, business, and technological mecca that it is today.

Jumping to the 20th Century, you had a number of popup innovation districts in Boston such as the Ladder District (located in the downtown street blocks between Washington and Tremont Streets, now known as Downtown Crossing). This was was a huge place for innovation in textiles, consumer electronics, retail, and culture (e.g. The Boston Opera House and The Orpheum Theater), where Emerson College (known for higher ed. in communications) now resides.

Other areas of Boston had seen innovation popups including the Government Center and Scollay Square areas where you would find most of your law firms, architectural firms, healthcare, traditional businesses, and government agencies—and at one time, a “red-light” district. Also, speaking of law firms and businesses, Suffolk University resides there, which specializes in these disciplines.

Bopping across the Charles River to Cambridge in the late 20th Century, A.K.A. the Dot-Com era, you would find a massive amount of companies pushing the boundaries of digital innovation. In Kendall Square (now a biotech hub ala BiogenAmgen, and Momenta), there were interactive advertising & marketing agencies such as Thunder House Online Marketing Communications, Zentropy Partners, and The Webber Group. In Fresh Pond/Cambridge Park Drive, there was BBN (Bolt Beranek and Newman, Inc.)/Genuity—the inventors of the @ symbol ubiquitously used in all email addresses. And of course, there’s Harvard University, and we all know what came out of there: Facebook!

And let’s not forget the Technology Corridor in the outskirts of Boston sometimes known as Silicon Alley (the mid-Route 128 area from Needham up to Burlington), which was a direct competitor to California’s Silicon Valley back in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. The amount of tech companies there was, and still is, staggering from Polaroid, Autodesk, DEC, Wang Laboratories, to AdobeMilliporeThermo Fisher, and Samsung Pay to name a few! And even PTC was there in Needham on Rt. 128 before the move in 2019 to the Boston Seaport Innovation District.

Boston’s Copley Square is another modern-day innovation district where companies such as ArnoldDigitasHill Holliday, Circle Interactive, Holland-Mark, and ISM (along with premiere industry organizations such as Ad Club and MITX [Mass. Interactive Tech. Exchange]) pushed the boundaries of inbound and content marketing in the traditional media and digital interactive media space (i.e. The Internet). Their contributions to this new paradigm of doing business has set the bar extremely high for the world to follow—even in NYC and LA.

And that finally gets us to the Seaport.

Aside from PTC, the Boston Innovation District of 2020 includes technology, finance, biotech, and other industry-leading companies such as PWCGEBoston Consulting GroupAxelion, and LogMeIn to name but a few.

There’s also the Boston Convention and Exposition Center (A.K.A. BCEC), the World Trade Center, the Seaport Hotel, the Spirit of Boston, the Harpoon Brewery, and the Rockland Trust Bank Pavilion; plus, a ton of restaurants, entertainment places (e.g. ICON TheaterKing’s Dining & Entertainment), shops, coffee houses, event and corporate meeting spaces, statuary, memorials, water fountains, and dog parks and a dog bakery. In the warmer months there’s the Cisco Beer Garden popup that even PTC has had events there. And, in the colder months there’s ice skating in the very same location. Also, there’s an annual Innovation Event run by HubWeek (complete with electric car test drives, VR games, and more) right outside PTC’s door.

Plus, a lot, lot more.

The bottom line is that Boston’s always been an American hub of innovation from its early formative Colonial years, to today, and well into the future.

So be totally psyched if you work down there in the Seaport/Innovation District!

“I am very proud of all you [at PTC] for coming here to work in Boston’s Innovation District…”

~ Mayor Martin J. Walsh, Mayor of Boston

To learn more about the Boston Seaport visit Seaport 2020’s website below:

Seaport is Boston’s new bustling neighborhood with a unique appeal. Explore art, culture, food + drink, and events in Seaport and Fort Point Channel Area.
Paul Revere’s House, built ca. 1680, 19 North Sq., Boston Mass.
Boston’s Long Wharf, ca. 1768.
Orpheum Theater, built ca. 1852, 1 Hamilton Pl., Boston Mass.
Scollay Square, ca. 1880, Boston Mass.
Boston Seaport – Innovation District, ca. 2019, Boston Mass.