How do makerspaces contribute to urban vitalism?

In recent years, researchers noticed the return of making practices, small-scale manufacturing and independent craft production to postindustrial cities. This ’maker movement’ comes together in so called ’makerspaces’ and, more generally, in community-based spaces of making. How do these spaces contribute to urban vitalism?

Researchers Amanda Brandellero and Anna Niutta conducted empirical research on the opportunities and limitations of these spaces in Turin, Italy. They published a paper on their findings in the journal Cities.

Creative and craft entrepreneurs find each other at ’makerspaces’, collaborative creative spaces where professionals and amateurs come together for the conception and construction of art, design, and technology projects using materials that are provided for this purpose. Understanding the emergence and variety of such spaces in specific urban contexts might help us to uncover how the take up of small-scale practices of making, mending, and repair might support urban vitality and collective well-being.

Understanding of the potential of local making practices

The research by Amanda Brandellero and Anna Niutta starts with the question ’in what ways do diverse community-led makerspaces in Turin reconfigure production and consumption practices and in so doing contribute to urban vitality?’. By answering this question, Amanda and Anna seek to contribute to our understanding of the potential of local making practices as a more inclusive and progressive approach to city making at a time when urgent changes are needed to how we produce and consume things. The outcomes provide insights in both the opportunities and the limitations of these makerspaces.

Why Turin?
Turin lends itself well for research on community-driven initiatives and urban vitalism. The city is a post-industrial city, but in recent years a resilient and diverse array of local initiatives have emerged, including alternative food economies and urban gardening. More recently, the city launched the Torino City Lab, a platform aimed at facilitating urban experimentation in various fields of activity, including the circular and sharing economies.

Sustainable and responsible lifestyle choices

Amanda and Anna reviewed five different open community-based spaces of making in Turin, to explore the potential of these places to incubate and diffuse sustainability transitions. They concluded that makerspaces encourage sustainable and responsible lifestyle choices and have an impact on inhabitants’ daily lives and city dynamics, allowing citizens to connect to their neighbourhood and to each other, facilitating social interactions between people of various ages and backgrounds.

Their analysis also identified three critical tension areas: regulating open access, managing community participation, and negotiating project-based work versus habitual sustainability practices. Makerspaces operate as spaces of togetherness, beyond growth paradigms, where citizens can release their vitality through making, shared ownership, responsibility, collaboration, and serendipitous encounters.

Vulnerabilities of makerspaces

While they show how these initiatives have the potential to unleash the vitality of citizens, they also acknowledge their vulnerabilities, as their constellations of resources, users, and contributors are relational and continuously in the making. Amanda and Anna also highlight some policy recommendations to ensure the continued and valuable transformative potential of makerspaces.

Crafting Future Urban Economies

This project aims to understand how a renaissance of making practices and craftsmanship can help tackle two major challenges: strengthening local economies in post-industrial cities, while supporting their transition to more circular and sustainable forms of production and consumption.

Anna Niutta is a former student of the Research Master Sociology of Culture, Media and the Arts. This research is party based on her research intership during this master.