The Maker movement at a larger scale: the Fab City framework and its Maker platforms

Sharitaly 2016 (Milan, Italy)

During the last several months I’ve been invited to events to present the work of Fab Lab Barcelona at IAAC, and especially during three events I had the opportunity to talk also about MAKE-IT but especially about the platforms developed in our labs, which can be considered Maker CAPS (Collective Awareness Platforms), since they focus on networking distributed and collaborative actors and processes. These events are Sharitaly 2016 (Milan, Italy) (15-16 November 2016), Innovation Village (Naples, Italy) (6-7 April 2017) and Energy & Smart Cities (Águeda, Portugal) (29-30 June 2017). Sharitaly is the main collaborative / sharing economy event in Italy; Innovation Village is the main innovation event in Southern Italy, and Águeda is a small Portuguese city with a population of 15,000 in central/northern Portugal, the first Smart City of the country. Here you can check the presentations for the Sharitaly 2016, Innovation Village and Energy & Smart Cities events.

Innovation Village (Naples, Italy). Source: Medaarch

The common element of the three presentations is the evolution of perspective that the Fab Lab movement is having now, which is increasingly considering its processes, outcomes and impact at a larger scale. Growing at a larger scale is (hopefully) a sign of the success of the Fab Lab and Maker movement, but also a sign of maturity in terms of reflecting upon the work done so fare and upon where to go from here. Growing at a larger scale means at least two directions, along which we are working on at Fab Lab Barcelona:

  1. on the physical, local dimension: the Fab City framework
  2. on the digital, global dimension: the Fab City platforms

On the first direction, the Fab City framework tries to develop the concept of a Fab City, a kind of smart city but with the involvement of citizens, makers, and Fab Labs and other spaces (companies, crafstmen, even restaurants, …), not just as an abstract concept but with working prototypes at neighbourhood and city level that each city can customise and test with multiple iterations.

The Fab City is an international initiative started by IAAC, MIT’s CBA, the Barcelona City Council and the Fab Foundation to develop locally productive and globally connected self-sufficient cities. The project is connected to the global Fab Lab (Fabrication Laboratory) Network and comprises an international think tank of civic leaders, makers, urbanists and innovators working on changing the paradigm of the current industrial economy where the city operates on a linear model of importing products and producing waste, to a spiral innovation ecosystem in which materials ow inside cities and information on how things are made circulates globally. Fab City is about building a new economy based on distributed data and manufacturing infrastructure.

The Fab City concept has been published during Spring 2016 in a whitepaper, and it is so important for the Fab Lab Barcelona that its research and design section is now called Fab City Research Lab. The framework, however, is not a strict and rigid one, it is rather an emerging process of experimentation:

Describing the initiative as ‘part project, part network, and part movement’, Tomas Diez, one of Fab City’s main instigators, argues that the disconnect between consumption and production is at the heart of our cities’ problems. As societies become disconnected from the production of everyday items entirely, we become reliant on importing via supply chains. As Tomas puts it, ‘We have externalised the responsibility for sustaining our lives’.

And for this concept of emerging process of participation, at Fab Lab Barcelona we have been working on planning a local prototype in the Poblenou neighbourhood, an old industrial district where the Fab Lab Barcelona is located. We held a workshop at OuiShare Fest Barcelona 2016 that invited local citizens to explore the future of the Poblenou neighbourhood by designing a roadmap regarding key issues of fabrication & materials, food production, energy.

For the Poblenou prototype we have been working also on proposals at larger scale to EU projects by involving other cities with local prototypes as well. One proposal presented a European experimentation playground — on- and offline — to implement, test and iterate innovative business opportunities at the local scale in cities’ neighbourhoods, and create open markets for products and services that support the development of Circular Economy (the proposal unfortunately was not accepted, but we will keep working on it). Another proposal presented neighbourhoods as unit of scale, as tangible platforms for collective awareness and provide an actionable scale for citizens, where to launch long lasting reciprocity chains amongst neighbourhood communities, local entrepreneurs and other city stakeholders (this proposal is still under review, and a recap was published in order to enable a discussion with all the stakeholders online). Furthermore, the Fab City Prototype approach is being developed through the Maker District, part of the Digital Plan of the Barcelona City Council.

Smart City & Energy (Agueda, Portugal)

On the second direction, the Fab City platforms, we have worked on 3 platforms that are now increasingly interconnected with the Fab City perspective, rather than single separated platforms. The core concept is connecting not just people, labs, projects and sensors, but to connect them with the local and global dimension. The role of such platforms is to connect makers and other stakeholders with facilities, processes and cities:

  • Smart Citizen: a platform to generate participatory processes of people in the cities. Connecting data, people and knowledge, the objective of the platform is to serve as a node for building productive and open indicators, and distributed tools, and thereafter the collective construction of the city for its own inhabitants. An open source software and hardware platform that enables citizen to be active participants of cities. This platform has been part of several EU projects, including the H2020 CAPS project Making Sense.
  • the online social network of the international Fab Lab community, the current official list of Fab Labs that share same principles, tools, and philosophy around the future of technology and its role in society. is an exchange platform for people, labs, projects, machines, events and groups that operate around the Fab Lab Network, which collaboration and communication tools in order to align interests and to expand the global scale of this community. Since October 2016 I’m its project manager, and some months ago I was interviewed about it by NESTA for the DSI4EU H2020 CAPS project, you can read the interview here. Furthermore, since is open source, it has also been adopted by other EU projects like TCBL.
  • Fab City Dashboard: a dashboard for all the Fab Cities where citizens, civic leaders, digital fabrication laboratories and makers can understand the existing resilience of their cities and how they are having an impact on it. This platform is currently just a proof of concept; I’ll write a blog post about it soon, since it is one of the topics we have worked on during MAKE-IT.

The roles, intersections and flows between these platforms are shown in the following diagram, that explains also how we are connecting different platforms into a whole framework:

The Fab City platforms

In the next blog posts I’ll present updates about the Fab City Dashboard, and other work on Maker CAPS done within MAKE-IT!

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