Fab Cities

In my last post, I discussed the amazing work that’s being done in Fab Labs. There’s another part of the story: Fab City. Fab City, which was launched in 2011, is a joint project of the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia, the Barcelona City Council, the MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms (CBA), and the Fab Foundation. Its goal is ambitious:

Fab City takes the ideals of the Fab Lab – the connectivity, culture and creativity – and scales it to the City. It is a new urban model of transforming and shaping cities

One of the core ideas is to move

from ‘Products In Trash Out’ (PITO) to ‘Data In Data Out’ (DIDO). This means that more production occurs inside the city, along with recycling materials and meeting local needs through local inventiveness. A city’s imports and exports would mostly be found in the form of data (information, knowledge, design, code).

The Fab City project has an ambitious roadmap. By 2054, cities that sign on to the project will attempt to achieve the following:

Cities produce at least 50% of what they consume

A global repository of open source designs for city solutions

Materials are source locally through recycling and digital materials

Although much of Fab City is focused around the world of fabrication, to reach a goal of cities producing at least 50% of what they consume, cities would also focus on growing food.

Urban farming will scale up from experimental practice to large scale infrastructure. Local production of foods at domestic, neighbourhood and city scales will create a closed loop system for food production and harvesting.”

How will Fab Cities pull this off? At this point, it’s really unclear — and as a Fab City blog post points out, that’s understandable given how early they are in the process.

Tomas [Diez, one of the movement’s originators] avoids trying to predict exactly what our cities will look like in 2054 (we all know how wildly wrong technological prophets have been in the past), and explains that there is no fully formed vision of what a Fab City will look like. Instead, he describes Fab Cities as an emerging process of experimentation. “We are flying an aeroplane while we are building it.”

One of these experiments is taking place in Barcelona,

[in] the newly designated makers’ district in Barcelona’s Poblenou neighbourhood. Working in partnership with the council, Fab City enthusiasts hope to create a Fab City Prototype in Poblenou as the area becomes an experimentation playground for trialing new systems of production and interaction…. The prototype sees residents experimenting in three main areas: material production, food production, and energy production. On the most fundamental level, this means manufacturing goods in makerspaces, growing food on rooftops, and storing energy collected via solar panels in domestic batteries. However, if enough citizens become empowered as producers rather than simply consumers, a whole new range of relations and transactions are possible.

I also can’t figure out what the Fab City movement thinks our economy should look like by 2054. Again, not too surprising considering how new the project is — and how mind-blowing some of the tech is. In one of CBA Director Neil Gershenfeld’s talks, he argues that in the future, perhaps instead of having to get a job doing work we don’t want to do to earn money to buy a product, for some of our needs we could just fabricate the product ourselves. Understanding the economic implications of that is no small feat. Hopefully, Makers All could be helpful in fleshing that out.

In the next few months I’m going to reach out to some of the folks involved in Fab Labs and Fab Cities; their work will definitely have a big impact on Makers All. Stay tuned…

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