The IFTF Blog
There is a great deal of momentum behind the Maker Movement. I have previously written about making in schools and in libraries. One thing is clear, people enjoy making stuff like 3D printer bunny rabbits or mobile apps for disaster preparedness, but there isn't necessarily a shared vision for where this movement is headed, or what potential it may hold. As humanity finds itself facing environmental disaster, resource scarcity, political and economic struggle, and various other challenges, a more focused Maker Movement would have the power to address these challenges and innovate on what it means to be human. Perhaps this group of people who are trying to make the world around them better, perhaps they can make the entire world better while they're at it.
So how could a diverse community of makers work toward a shared understanding of what is possible and focus on a common goal? A while back I was speaking with Dale Dougherty about the future of the Maker Movement, and he asked the question, "What does a model Maker City look like?"
Creating a Maker City — even if it's just a thought experiment — could serve as a useful tool for understanding the potential of this movement. What if every individual and organization in a Maker City shared the maker ethos of collaboration, prototyping, and openness? What if education, business and governance were all linked through these shared Maker values of creation, collaboration, analysis? What if everyone had a sense of power to collectively shape and reshape the world around them? Is this the city that you would want to live in? Is this is the city that you would want to live in?
The Maker Movement is influencing the city, and our lives, in five key areas already. These areas could serve as a loose framework for redefining how we interact with each other, and the cities we live in.
In the past 10 years, we have seen the emergence of accessible community spaces where people can get together and make stuff. Hackerspaces serve as local nodes in this global community where people and ideas come together. As of this year, there are well over 1,000 Hackerspaces around the world (MAP). These are often formed when a few individuals who get together and pool resources from the surrounding community, and one another, to provide equipment such as laser cutters, sewing machines, or oscilloscopes. Hackerspaces tend to collect different resources based on projects that the community wants to work on. The methods for organizing Hackerspaces are diverse and often experimental. One space may practice a form of do-ocratic Anarchy (think Noisebridge)—where anyone is allowed in for free and everyone can participate—while other spaces have appointed leaders or charge membership dues. TechShop is similar to the Hackerspace, but it is a for-profit business. Tech Shop thrives on the popularity of making with a total of seven locations all over the country. Members pay monthly dues and have access to the facilities, similar to the way a gym membership works.
In the past year, there haves been an interesting development in the community workshop space — shifting from ad-hoc communities or for-profit businesses to taxpayer funded, publicly-available maker facilities. Several public libraries have begun integrating 3D printers, electronics classes, and woodworking tools alongside books and computers. Some librarians believe that the new literacies required for a citizen in the 21st century can most likely be discovered through the hands-on experiences, with some basic tools and the right teachers. These librarians see it as their duty to foster the maker community and to facilitate this style of learning.
In addition to libraries, a few schools on the cutting edge have adopted a hands-on, project centered method for teaching. The Brightworks Maker School in San Francisco is a private, experimental maker school with a curriculum built around hands-on, project-based experiential learning.
While Brightworks has a bright future in maker education, 75% of high school technology education programs have been cut in the state of California since the 80's [PDF]. Today, many kids never get the opportunity to build things with their hands, even though an abundance of research [PDF] is showing that hands-on, tangible education is extremely effective. Projects like MakerEd aim to help bring a tangible experience back into the classroom through hands-on learning. The US Department of Defense also sees a lack of hands-on learning in classrooms as a serious problem, even a national security risk. Through the MENTOR program, DARPA has sponsored Make and the Georgia Institute of Technology to bring a maker experience to 100 schools, and then 1,000 High School schools in the next two years — an ambitious initiative that could fundamentally redirect the future of education.
As the Maker movement has grown beyond the fringe, it has begun to influence the culture in our cities. Magazines, conferences, festivals and countless websites have sprung up to document, share, and enjoy this new national pastime. Thousands of projects have been shared on the websites Make, Hack-A-Day, and Instructables. The interesting part here is that it's not just people showing off the cool stuff they make, there is a desire to freely share the knowledge of how to make that thing, and everyone is encouraged to join in.
All over the world, people are flocking to Maker Faires to see and participate in this culture of making. The Maker Faire is a place where people of all ages can get together and experience what people are building in their garages and personal laboratories. Since the first Maker Faire was held in the San Francisco Bay Area back in 2006, hundreds of thousands of people have traveled to see flagship fairs in Detroit, New York City, and San Mateo. In addition to these three big flagship faires, it is possible for a community to host a Maker Faire in their own city. These Mini Maker Faires have spread across the US, Canada, Europe, and as far west as Singapore.
Making stuff is a highly local experience, you generally have to work with your hands and physical materials, but the things that are made are often recognized and appreciated across cultural boundaries. It turns out that the act of creating is more than just a modern novelty. While maker-focused websites and events have been trending lately, they are heavily inspired by the fundamental human instinct to create. The big difference is that now traditional knowledge (i.e. knitting) is accessible to all, even if your grandmother isn't there to teach you.
A confluence of forces in the 21st century — rising labor costs across the globe, tighter regulations on worker rights and environmental impacts, increasing shipping costs — is making local production nearly as competitive as the few global manufacturing centers that dominated the late 20th century. In the Harvard Business Review, Jeffrey Immett, CEO of GE, states "In 2008 GE came to the conclusion that outsourcing was outdated as a model for its appliances business." In The Atlantic, Charles Fishman elaborates on Immett's comment,
"GE is not alone in moving the manufacture of many of its products back to the U.S. The transformation under way at Appliance Park is mirrored in dozens of other places, with Whirlpool bringing mixer-making back from China to Ohio, Otis bringing elevator production back from Mexico to South Carolina, even Wham-O bringing Frisbee-molding back from China to California."
While global economic forces are beginning to decentralize manufacturing, technological and social developments are allowing the tools for manufacturing to become more widely distributed amongst all of the cities in the world. In the book Makers: The New Industrial Revolution, Chris Anderson argues that in the same way the internet helped democratize media, new manufacturing technologies such as affordable 3D printers, accessible community workshops, and DIY biology labs will help democratize manufacturing.
As local manufacturing becomes more accessible and economically viable, what does this mean for a Maker City? Local employment is one immediate improvement [PDF]. In the past, cities such as Detroit have built their identity around large scale globalized manufacturing, but with groups like Opportunity Detroit, we see the cities' identity shift from automobile manufacturing to local manufacturing.
This focus on local business is mirrored in many cities through organizations like the Small Business Beanstalk (Columbus, Ohio), and Local OK (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma), just to name a few. In New York, Mayor Bloomburg has passed several laws encouraging both local production of food, and the purchasing of local goods. In San Francisco, SF Made is a community that supports local manufacturing. Everything from back packs and bicycles, to coffee and clothes. SF Made helps entrepreneurs start businesses, and it helps show the people in the city how local manufacturing makes for a more vibrant and resilient culture.
It is fun to imagine how far this trend will go. There are many variables in play, including fuel costs, available technology, and local identity. Today, it makes sense to buy locally grown tomatoes or locally made backpacks, but in the future locally made automobiles and smartphones may be common commodities as well.
When people are engaged in making and creating things, it provides the maker with a powerful sense of ownership that can help build stronger local communities and governments, or simply provide a sense of control over one's own future.
Last year, leading up to the mayoral elections in San Francisco, an organization called the Gray Area Foundation For The Arts (GAFFTA) ran a four month experiment in urban innovation and open government. GAFFTA hosted Summer of Smart, a series of 48 hour hackathons focusing on San Francisco as a smart city. During these hackathons, anyone could contribute, develop and vote on ideas, and then the winning ideas were presented to the Mayoral candidates. One of these ideas, an app called Smart Muni, was chosen to become part of the city's infrastructure, and many others are still in development.
While GAFFTA's Summer of Smart allowed anyone to contribute ideas to the mayoral debate, Code For America helps partner young technologists, designers, and community organizers with cities all over the country. Described as the "Peace Corps for geeks," Code for America helps local governments better understand the potential of integrating new technologies in their communities. Projects coming out of this partnership include prepared.ly, a natural disaster preparedness service, and Textizen, a text message based feedback system for town hall meetings, just to name two.
While politics can be controversial, most people can agree that government services can be made more efficient and more effective. Projects like Summer of Smart or Code for America are empowering citizens to become part of the solution by integrating their first-hand experiences and technological expertise in making the city a better place
The maker movement is already transforming the city. From education and entertainment, to commerce and governance, if this movement continues to hold its momentum, it could completely transform our daily lives. As the Maker Movement grows in different cities around the world, we should think of what it will look like when these five trends converge. What does a city look like when each citizen has a sense of agency in shaping his or her own life, community, and city? What would it be like to live in a Maker City?