What has been happening in Brest, Brittany, since the city was certified Fab City one year ago? The week before the Fab City Summit and FAB14 opened in France, Makery investigated on site.
Brest, special report
On July 3-6, the campus of Institut Mines-Télécom Atlantique hosted the 8th Forum des usages coopératifs, a national event organized by the City of Brest to bring together 400 French digital mediators. Leading up to the Fab City Summit in Paris and FAB14, the international conference of fablabs, in France, the Forum is an opportunity for the actors of Fab City Brest to reconvene and re-evaluate, one year after their certification at FAB13 in Santiago, Chile.
Since then, what has happened in Brest? Some might say, not much—in September 2017, municipal services were reorganized, and UBO Open Factory, a new fablab and key player in the Fab City, was inaugurated at the University of Bretagne Occidentale. Others might say that the project has matured over the autumn and winter, as a new cycle of development has begun. “The fabcity concept is still hard to define,” says Anne Le Gars, designer and fabmanager in charge of UBO Open Factory’s Fab City program.
So what exactly is a fabcity? “In a nutshell,” according to Le Gars, “it’s a city that has committed to localizing 50% of its production by 2054. That’s 40 years after the network launched in Barcelona in 2014, to set a roadmap.” At the opening of the Forum des usages coopératifs, the leading individuals of Fab City Brest explained why they have committed to the fabcity approach.
After the introduction, the workshop. “The hub is human engineering,” says Le Gars. “We lead the meetings with design. It may be disorienting for some, but it’s so efficient in terms of engagement and results! It forces each one of us to think about our own positioning, to speak our minds on how the project might be limited. This has shown that it could highlight the forces involved.”
At the “world café” workshop, people discuss resilience, mobilizing citizens, open cooperation. But they also deconstruct the “bullshit buzzwords” of urban marketing, according to Anthony Auffret of Petits Débrouillards and Fabriques du Ponant, when asked to define the term “sustainable development”.
Fablabs localizing production
The workshop did succeed in clarifying what it means to localize production. Localizing production means reducing the transportation of goods, so the fabcity can be considered a tool to implement plans for reduced carbon emissions in accordance with the Paris Accord signed at COP21 in 2015. Localizing production also means reducing the production of waste. The originality of the fabcity is that it’s an urbanist theory that emerged from the philosophy of fablabs, inspired by the principles of internationally sharing open digital fabrication files, so that everyone can aim for the waste reduction goals of the circular economy. Tomás Diez, who initiated the Fab City concept, posited in 2012 that the Dido (Data In, Data Out) principle of circulating goods for local fabrication could replace the Pito (Product In, Trash Out) system, which pollutes and asphyxiates our planet.
Today, while this approach is often powered by fablabs, the Fab City network has been emancipated from the Fab Foundation network of fablabs. It is moving toward its own foundation. In just a few years, leading cities such as Barcelona, Detroit, Shenzhen, Boston and Curitiba in Brazil have taken on the challenge. In order to be certified Fab City, the application must be supported by local politicians who publicly (in video or print) commit to adopting the common objectives of localizing production. Brest is the third city in France, after Paris and Toulouse-Occitanie, to be certified.
Brest’s video pitch to join the Fab City network, 2017:
The fabcity project emerged in Brest, no doubt because the city has been proactive for a number of years in improving digital access and promoting commons. All the current actors of Fab City Brest credit this to Michel Briand, member of the Green party in charge of digital media for three mandates, who left his mark on the digital media policies of Greater Brest.
Since 1995, the objective of digital services under Michel Briand has been to facilitate and promote the values of commons, open, sharing, building community, helping people launch their projects, crossing networks and introducing people from different backgrounds for potential collaboration, in educational, social, cultural sectors, etc., to highlight the fact that digital media involves everyone. Today there are more than a hundred Public Internet Access Points in the area, including in all community facilities and media libraries.
For Ronan Pichon, who succeeded Michel Briand, Brest’s digital media policy has always aimed to support the various actors of digital mediation. “Each year, the city launches a non-competitive call for projects that lends a helping hand to some 40 digital media projects, for society, education and innovation,” he says.
Talking about the goal of localizing 50% of production implies using indicators to measure the impact of fabcity policies. At the core of the fabcity machinery is the Fab City Dashboard (which we covered here), explored by Jade Georis-Creuseveau and Cécile Guégan of Data Terra. The two geographers gave a workshop at Forum des usages coopératifs. Choosing OECD indicators for the Fab City Dashboard is a thorny issue, once zoomed in to the scale of a city. “We’ll most likely have to start off with one chain before testing an entire dashboard,” says Jade.
Since winter, they have been studying possible indicators for Fab City Brest, in particular examining the case of Plymouth in Cornouailles, a sister city of Brest that is eyeing the Fab City label. “Plymouth already had an open data policy for environmental protection, economic development, social innovation.” This July at IMT, people are talking about web scraping and open tools. According to Jade, we still have a ways to go in terms of open data, suggesting approaches such as Dododata.
Fabcity and re-employment
An interest in woodworking is the common point for certain joint programs to aid re-employment, such as the cooperative initiative by the Un peu d’R recycling center, Eesab’s master of transition design and Les ManufActeurs collective of architects and designers (which we covered here). For Thierry Abalea, who manages Lieu-Dit, a hub for cooperative projects between a dozen actors of the circular economy, the recycling center is an example of good practices for the future of Fab City Brest.
At Un peu d’R, we met Emmanuel Gazin, who has been reclaiming discarded objects for the past decade. “Our first action was social,” he explains. “There are people who move into social housing but have no equipment; others have attics and basements full of stuff. We took it from there. We see what we can refurbish and reuse, and how we can cooperate with social workers in the Brest area.” Un peu d’R prevented 220 tons of waste in 2017 and equips 230 social housing units per year, thanks to 8 employees, 50 volunteers, 4 civil service workers and 20 people doing community service.
Inside Un peu d’R’s space, desktop computer central processing units are stacked in piles. “We quickly noticed that a lot of computer hardware is declassified, so little by little we developed relationships with administrations and companies. We currently pick up and refurbish about 800 computers per year. At the beginning, we gave them all back to the social sector, but now we also pass them on to start-ups with limited budgets.”
Spreading the concept
Gazin is convinced that the fabcity can be built through dialogue with companies and by changing modes of consumption. “Here we’ve developed workshops on techniques for repairing, refurburshing furniture, etc. Then we got interested in office furniture, tables, chairs, and how to structure this section. There are piles of furniture, sometimes in perfect condition!” While he believes in Fab City Brest, he also thinks it has a ways to go in order to “feel like an ambassador, to spread the concept to other players. When you’re working in a waste collection center all day, you easily chat with 50-70 people. It would be good to tell these people about the process. In the same way, all the organizations that are participating in the climate forums held in Brest should be able to power the fabcity.”
Bartering in Brest
To support short circuits and re-employment, Thierry Abalea of Lieu-Dit thought of a bartering platform between companies in the Brest and Finistère region, inspired by Breizh Barter. Lieu Dit and B2B Breizh, which cooperates with SCIC France Barter in western France, met recently. “We defined the modalities and technical and financial conditions for deploying this platform in the Brest area via le Lieu-Dit, which would become the platform’s local correspondent. We’re finalizing the local business plan. We intend to launch it by the end of 2018, and see it really take off in 2019,” says Abalea.
“The real economic challenge is enlarging the Brest metropolis, the smallest metropolis in France, surrounded by the sea on three sides, where resilience to the risk of cutting our ties with the rest of France has always been crucial,” he continues. “The fabcity project can contribute a lot to these issues.”