The panel discussion on Maker Cities at the Center Stage of Maker Faire Bay Area 2015 offered a comprehensive look at the emerging connection between Makers, city government, and economic development.
The talk was led by Silicon Valley entrepreneur and co-leader of the Maker City initiative, Peter Hirshberg. Panelists included Neil Hrushowy, Libby Schaaf, and Nick Pinkston.
As the Program Director for the San Francisco Planning Department, Neil Hrushowy shared his experience with the Market Street Prototyping Festival, and the need for cities to be more flexible with permitting to give Makers and artists greater agency to change and experiment with their environment for the common good. In a nutshell, Hrushowy made the case for the impact Makers can have to shape their city, provided that local government works as an ally and not a roadblock.
Nick Pinkston, founder of Plethora and HackPittsburgh spoke on the subject of Maker manufacturing — the tools and infrastructure needed for production. His company, Plethora, enables rapid manufacturing for individuals and companies ready to explore high-precision prototyping. But to get there, Pinkston explains the need for local educational and DIY fabrication resources (makerspaces, fab labs) to bring Makers and entrepreneurs up to point where serious commercial fabrication becomes realistic as the next logical step.
Finally, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf talked about how the individuality and historic industries of a city can inform its approach to envisioning itself as a Maker City. Speaking of Oakland, Mayor Schaaf gave the example of a local fabricator, American Steel Studios, facing the possibility of being pushed out of their property by a Costco development. In difficult situations like this, city officials often face the tough choice between supporting the creative character of their city and the more tangible potential tax revenue of a big box store. With private real estate interests, mayoral influence can only do so much, but the deliberate use of zoning and public-private partnerships can go a long way to foster and protect space for artists, Makers, and industry.
In addition to the hour-long talk embedded above, you can learn more about the emerging trend of Maker Cities by reading Travis Good’s three-part series.