What future for urban manufacturing? Are we witnessing the relocating of craftsmanship and production of material goods, as the heralds of fabcity are claiming? After a two-year enquiry, the European report Cities of Making, published on May 10, offers an insight into urban manufacturing in three European cities: Brussels, London and Rotterdam, three cities with a strong industrial past where “a very different future is looming.” Brussels has one of the weakest levels of industrial manufacturing in Europe; London saw this level decrease radically over the last fifty years and is about to leave the European Union, a decision “of which the implications are not yet clear but will have significance for the capital’s manufacturers” and Rotterdam, highly industrialized, with a port and an important greenhouse agriculture.
“After years of decline and delocalization, European cities have to question the role of their urban industry,” can be read in the report. The authors endeavor to stay clear of the polarization of the issue, with on one hand the vision of a declining industry, the resulting job loss and loss of identity for territories, and on the other hand, the renewed interest for local manufacturing such as ceramics, traditional beers and makerspaces. “There are plenty of ongoing activities which do not hold the allure of either new technology or cutting edge design and it is important that these are not neglected or seen as less desirable,” write the authors.
“New technologies including additive manufacturing techniques will allow for quieter production, more suited to built-up environments. Circular economy ideals may encourage the making (and re-making) of goods closer to where they are consumed. While consumer trends like just-in-time production of clothing could bring manufacturing closer to home.” In fact, certain brands have already taken this route, underlines the report, particularly Nike with its customized service NikeiD.
Industries are sometimes poorly known and poorly understood by consumers and public authorities, mention the authors, and networks appear to act as one voice, like the Guild of Makers, East End Trades Guild or still Open Workshop Network, that links makerspaces in London.
The future of urban industries could be brighter than their past. “A radical shift in the way goods are produced and consumed is on the horizon, driven by emerging technologies including 3D printing, the internet of things, cloud computing, and blockchain. This shift has been coined ‘Industry 4.0’ in recognition of its comparable significance to the three previous industrial revolutions.”
Cities of Making is a European research project driven by seven institutions, including Latitude, a platform on urban research, the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce in London (RSA) or still the Université Libre de Bruxelles. Its ambition is to serve as a basis for discussion on the place of industries in the city.
Our tour of the London makerspaces and workshops