Reinventing a city does not have to start from the top down. You don’t need big government initiatives and huge funding, this noteworthy book contends.
People within America’s growing “Maker culture” can rework and improve a local economy. They can bring needed and worthwhile changes to a city’s culture using significantly smaller budgets and much less government intervention. And the reinvigoration can happen in small, rural towns as well as in large metropolitan areas, the authors of Maker City believe.
What, exactly, is Maker culture? Here’s how it is defined in this book:
“Today’s Makers are crafters, artists and artisans, technologists, hobbyists, amateur scientists, entrepreneurs, engineers, woodworkers, roboticists, and many others. They are young people engaging in hands-on projects that introduce them to science and technology in creative ways. Makers are also adults who see themselves as inventors and experimentalists. Some have PhDs and others are self-educated. Makers are practicing a craft or challenging themselves to learn a new hobby. They are creative problem-solvers who gain the confidence that they can tackle ever-larger problems.”
The movement brings the local “best and brightest” together with other Makers around the globe, linked together via the Internet or in person as solutions to problems are sought, made and tested.
A key tenet of city-level Maker culture is “Open Innovation, the idea that the best solutions do not lie with any one individual or institution inside city government but must be created through collaboration and engagement that looks outside for answers and examples of what to do to affect change.”
The notion of city reinvention typically puts spotlights on big cities where factories and industries have been lost and large buildings and neighborhoods have fallen into ruin. For example, efforts to find a major new role, such as commercial shipyard, for the old Brooklyn Navy Yard repeatedly failed, until a new, Maker-oriented approach was tried. That’s when the Brooklyn Navy Yard “started to make a comeback as a community housing many smaller businesses made up of Makers, artists, artisans, and manufacturing concerns. Today over 330 businesses and 7,000 people work out of the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 3.5 million square feet growing to 5.0 million square feet by 2018,” Maker City reports.
Small towns also can benefit from Maker innovation and talent, the book emphasizes. Ways can be found to take advantage of local history and draw visitors, as well as new residents. Old, unused buildings can be upgraded to emphasize and celebrate local history and serve as meeting centers or performance sites. Other buildings can be converted to innovation centers and incubators that give local residents places or other help to start businesses and hire other local residents.
The book is well-written and well-organized and offers a wide range of ideas, case studies and trend reports. For example, big assembly line jobs are not coming back, unless robots provide the “labor.” But small-scale manufacturing is expanding, thanks to 3D printers and other devices and innovations. Small-scale manufacturers also are often selling their products directly to customers from their sites. And customers are showing a stronger preference for buying locally made products.
Whether you work in business, government, science or education or are simply concerned about urban renewal, Maker City deserves careful consideration.
— Si Dunn