Why manufacturing has a key role in European cities and how it can be supported - RSA

Why manufacturing has a key role in European cities and how it can be supported

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In the last few weeks factories and makers across the UK have stepped in to help deal with the coronavirus pandemic. From breweries producing hand sanitiser to clothing brands making masks and scrubs, the ability to quickly pivot production has been critical and is an important reminder that manufacturing is a cornerstone of our economic and social lives.

Today sees the release of Foundries of the Future: A guide to 21st Century Cities of Making. Along with its accompanying tool kit, it is the final publication from Cities of Making: a consortium of European academic and civil society organisations, including the RSA, who have been exploring the role of manufacturing in the future of European cities over the last three years.

Despite being a foundation in the historical development of many cities, in the last half century manufacturing has fallen from favour. As visions of both the modern metropolis and the modern economy have focused on service sectors, so light industry – once tightly embedded within the fabric of cities – has declined and has been further weakened by planning and economic policy choices.

However, the industry that remains is tightly connected to the community and economic activity around it, often providing foundational services to the city, from fresh bread and food processing to product research and development to repair and maintenance of city infrastructure. Far from being in terminal decline, this research places manufacturing and light industry firmly in the future of European cities and calls for greater support to ensure its security and its success.

The Cities of Making consortium has worked to firstly understand the role of manufacturing within cities; secondly, to identify how it can better be supported; and thirdly, to test and develop tools and approaches which can help policy makers and practitioners put these ideas into practice.

What manufacturing does for cities

Through this work the consortium has identified four needs of cities that manufacturing helps to meet.

1. The need for innovation

Manufacturing sectors have material intelligence and knowledge of production which, when combined with the design, engineering and science communities, can support the development of innovative solutions – such as the development of the folding Brompton bike in London.

2. The need for environmentally sustainable futures

Cities face a host of environmental challenges. As we increasingly need to find ways to reduce carbon emissions, improve biodiversity, ensure cleaner air and lower waste and pollution, manufacturing can offer key capabilities. Skills in repair, maintenance, and the repurposing of materials and resources can unlock circular economy approaches with the aim of lower material footprints and cycling resources within urban areas.

3. The need for a thriving foundational economy

From printing to tooling to food production, manufacturing provides services and products which are foundational to the economy. These services are crucial to the functioning of other sectors within the city, from finance to healthcare services.

4. The need for inclusive employment

Finally, the diversity of jobs and skills within the manufacturing sector provides a key route into and through employment for many people and communities within cities.

What manufacturing needs to flourish in cities

Through research across London, Rotterdam and Brussels, the consortium has identified a series of 50 ‘patterns’ which can help enable manufacturing to flourish. These have been developed by drawing on case studies and they range from useful narratives to encourage, to detailed architectural requirements.

These patterns are not designed to be solutions that can be dropped into any city, but are offered as useful prompts to shift thinking and action towards creating better conditions for the sector. For each pattern there is detail about why it helps, what barriers might be faced in enabling it, and examples of how it might interface with other patterns.

Pattern examples include:

  • Making Making Visible – which details the need for manufacturing to be made visible within a city in order to gain public support and build access to the market.
  • The Curator – the importance of a curator role which helps businesses or neighbourhoods by aligning interests, building partnerships, exploring needs, communicating news and protecting community interests.
  • Assured Security of Space – the importance of ensuring that businesses have reliable long-term access to their manufacturing space in order to make investment in staff, technology, and local networks.

Putting ideas into practice

Using these patterns to help put ideas into practice is the subject of the final section of the publication. This details how these patterns and a range of other tools, including stakeholder mapping and visioning, can be practically applied to policy and urban design planning. These tools are particularly designed to bring together a diverse range of stakeholders to find positive ways forward.

We hope that these tools will prove useful to anyone interested in embedding sustainability or circular economy, inclusive economy and innovation within their cities, and those within the manufacturing sector. Now more than ever we are witnessing the true value of production and material knowledge within our cities. With a little more support it could hold a key for dealing with 21st century urban challenges and unlock new potential for a sustainable and inclusive future.

Read the publication: Foundries of the Future: A guide to 21st Century Cities of Making

Full details of the project and further resources including videos and case studies can also be found on the Cities of Making website.

Cities of Making is an ERA-NET ENSUF funded project. The project partners are Brussels Enterprises Commerce and Industry, Latitude Platform for Urban Research and Design, Technical University of Delft, The RSA, l’Université libre de Bruxelles, University College London, Vrije Universiteit Brussel.

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  • Shoutout to the independent makers like Good Ordering, that during "normal" times make the products city dwellers need, and during the crisis have been some of the first to respond to the demand for things like face masks! 

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