Learning from the Maker Movement

Participatory CityMaking

By Stephane L. Pressault

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11 October 2017

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What is Participatory CityMaking? Is it just another trendy term only accessible to latte-sipping urbanites or is there something deeper going on? At the surface, Participatory CityMaking is catchy, no doubt. But there is more to it. Participatory CityMaking brings civic engagement and literacy to all people. Going beyond the usual vertical engagement between citizen and government, Participatory CityMaking has the potential to reveal the latent power of all who use their city.

I recently read a piece in Forbes on the Maker Movement.  The author, William Craig, identified three qualities that we find in a Maker: openness, risk-taking, and creativity. Whether we are conscious of it or not, the Maker Movement is permeating our everyday lives: shops in the hippest neighbourhoods regularly pop up showcasing the crafts of old. From artisanal coffee roasters and bakeries to high-end carpentry, the Maker Movement is bringing value to everyday commodities. Makers love what they do and pride themselves on their crafts. What if openness, risk-taking, and creativity were qualities of civic engagement? I’m interested in how we can learn from the similarities between the Maker Movement and the ideals of civic engagement.

The Maker Movement is established on principles of open democracy, participation, and creation. Makers value openness by promoting a spirit of sharing and of coming together. With this, the ideas, dreams, and visions of other makers are no longer felt as a threat but are welcomed. Makers imagine possible futures. They test their ideas and learn from their failures. This participatory process is meant to overcome incapacitating fears. Since makers are meant to create, they relentlessly test new tools and encourage new approaches to their craft. Applied to CityMaking, openness, risk-taking, and creativity become a motivating factor to empower people to look at city issues in a new light.

Participatory CityMaking makes civic engagement and literacy accessible. Participatory CityMaking turns the city from an abstract entity to a co-owned and co-created project. People come together not because they all share the same cultural, ethnic, religious, moral or political identity, rather, people come together because they all share the same city. Our work at Synapcity is to activate that latent CityMaking power within each person. By creating spaces that encourage openness amongst diverse people living in the same places and by enabling a sense of confidence to take risks, participatory CityMaking is ignited. Creativity is the outcome.

There is no doubt that cities across North America are recognizing the importance of the Maker Movement. The private sector has been quickly convincing cities that the Maker Movement encourages open innovation. They are showcasing that the best solutions must be created through collaboration and engagement. If creating the next innovative technology requires collaboration and looking outside the status quo, then innovating our civic institutions and civic culture will require the same. When people recognize that they are all city-makers, then Jane Jacobs’ insights will further ring true: “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.