What opportunities would a global network bring to my local agenda?
The Fab City Global Initiative
Fab City Global Initiative (FCGI) is a global network that aims at transforming communities, societies, and ecosystems into distributed networks of hyper-local productive systems, which enable the mass distribution of goods and resources globally. This logic is referred to as PITO (Product-In-Trash-Out) to DIDO (Data-In-Data-Out). FCGI is founded on the idea that Fab Labs could potentially make anything locally. This paradigm shift in the productive logics of cities and their bioregions is supported through a multi-scalar framework referred to as the Fab City Full Stack. This framework aims at making operative the re-localization of production in cities and the use of digital fabrication technologies at different scales, identifying the key infrastructure and stakeholders available in different layers of cities ecosystems.
This global initiative supports the development of new production, innovation and learning processes at the local level, while articulating global efforts through the Fab City Foundation (FCF), a formal organization formed to foster’s the FCGI’s agenda.
Fab City Global Initiative established a 40-year road map, launched in Barcelona in 2014 and now followed by 37 other cities. The roadmap was translated into a challenge for cities in the network to develop and implement a new urban model by 2054: cities that produce everything they consume locally, while sharing knowledge globally.
The Fab City Network (FCN) of cities gathers annually in the Fab City Summit, organized in a different city every time. Recently, online networking sessions hosted quarterly (with the third of the year hosted in conjunction with the summit) by the FCF provide space to exchange experiences and foster collaborations between the different members of the network.
A diversity of Fab Cities
Each of the 38 Fab Cities has its own local approach to the overarching vision of the network. To become a Fab City, a territory (city, region, metropolitan area, etc.) must adhere publicly to the Fab City Pledge during a Fab City Summit. A territory must be represented by a consortium of at least 3 members: a Fab Lab or maker organization, an organization representing the public administration, and an organization representing the community. In many Fab Cities, local Fab Labs are the leading actor of the local consortium. The potential of the FCGI and the FCN has often been used by these organizations as means to engage the local administration into the Fab City vision. In Paris, leveraging on the institutional and policy local context (2017 European Capital of Innovation, the announcement of the “Paris Cité de Makers” plan, or the Circular Economy Plan for Paris 2017-2020), Fab City Grand Paris engaged the City of Paris through the organization of the Fab City Summit in 2018. During the event, which was also hosted by the Ville de Paris, the City Council, represented by the mayor Anne Hidalgo, signed the Fab City pledge and appointed an officer to work directly in the Fab City Agenda. Similarly, Fab City Zagreb works together with the faculty of architecture at Zagreb in several initiatives, such as the Adriatic Green Lab, the Biševo Makers Island Workshop in 2019 or the Sesvete Living Lab in the proGlreg project. These activities connect both the Fab City vision and the urban sustainability agenda of the local administration, who also signed the Fab City Pledge in 2019.
Even though most of the local Fab Cities’ initiatives and approaches are still strongly connected to the maker movement (Maker Faire Zagreb by Fab City Zagreb, Unleash Butan by Fab City Butan) the Fab City Full Stack framework serves as an umbrella to connect different local agendas. These include frameworks which may be core to different members of the local consortiums, such as circular economy, sustainability, employment, or social inclusion, and specific topics such as nature-based solutions, or food and agriculture labs. Similarly, the actors and scales involved in each Fab City’s initiatives vary among the network. For example, while Fab City Zagreb has often worked on the living lab scale, Fab City Barcelona is developing an ecosystem platform approach to facilitate exchanges both on the local and global scale (Make Works, Distributed Design Market Platform).
The diversity of approaches, topics and actors is also translated in diverse governance models. Each Fab City may have a different internal organizational structure, decision-making mechanisms or membership models that fit its own needs. Belonging to Fab City Paris was formally possible through a yearly membership fee (the system has changed at the moment to a donor support system), but in most cases involvement is informally managed through collaborations and local initiatives. Most Fab Cities have a core group of active members who take the lead in many decisions. Nevertheless, in some cases, board meetings and annual general meetings are used to discuss organizational matters and plan the calendar of local initiatives.
The Fab City vision in the local territory
The Fab City Full Stack includes seven different interconnected layers that Fab Cities could use to operationalize their local-global vision towards a more resilient and sustainable future and the shift in their productive systems. These layers are described through actions, for example, “sharing global knowledge through digital ecosystems”, or “designing new forms of learning for skills of the future”. Each of these actions target a different aspect needed to change the productive ecosystem: from the spaces where things are produced or the professionals that design new resource streams, to the plans to manage resources in a territory. Even though this framework supports an interconnected and simultaneous implementation of the Fab City vision on the makerspace, the neighborhood, the city, the region and the global scale, most Fab Cities work on a specific territory. Fab City Barcelona is focused on the Poblenou neighborhood as a “Fab City prototype”. Similarly, Fab City Zagreb has worked mainly in the Svete area, or Fab City Grand Paris focuses most of its activities in the 19th district. This allows Fab Cities to prototype ideas, engage with new stakeholders, and communicate their specific city vision.
Prototyping and experimenting on a specific territory have proven useful for Fab Cities in transition processes led by bottom-up organizations, which lack the human and material resources to implement large scale actions. Moreover, focusing on a defined area has seemed beneficial also in order to obtain new resources and funding that complements ongoing activities. The previous experience on a local neighborhood allowed Fab City local consortiums to make local partnerships and access to resources that could be later used in future initiatives. That has been the case for Poblenou neighborhood in Barcelona, where several EU funded projects are currently being implemented in order to explore different interrelated aspects connected to the Fab City vision, such as sustainable food systems, or renovation of industrial heritage sites to host productive and creative uses.
Research and knowledge at the core of the FCGI
The Fab City Global Initiative was born in 2011 and the Fab Lab Network was officially established in 2014. Nevertheless, previous networks to which the different partners belonged to have been instrumental to the expansion of the initiative worldwide. Many of the FCN were part of the Fab Labs Network, or collaborated in research networks such as P2P Lab or educational programs such as Fab Academy. Even though these networks still play an important role in the FCGI, nowadays many new members are brought into the network by existing members, which is not only expanding the network but also diversifying it.
Due to the characteristics of the initial members and their networking spaces, many collaborations of the network take place in research initiatives. For European Fab Cities, many joint efforts are being developed in the framework of EU funded research projects that connect to specific aspects of the Fab City agenda and vision. Some of them provide opportunities to develop the local Fab City agendas and engage with local actors (proGlreg, FoodShift2030) while others allow also for cross-pollination and collaborations across different Fab Cities (Reflow, CENTRINNO). Through these initiatives, Fab City Global Initiative aims at influencing the research and policy agenda both at EU level and local level. One example of this are the Ateneus de Fabricació in Barcelona, a network of publicly managed makerspaces “to learn, collaborate on different projects, and form part of the city’s social development”, in which early development both Fab Lab and Fab City Barcelona were involved. However, beyond a few initiatives, it is still too early to measure how the impact of Fab Cities is translated in local, national or transnational policy making.
- An operational framework makes a global vision more tangible. A flexible framework can connect the global vision with different local agendas.
- Explore what networks are already out there. See if their visions match your city or organization’s objectives and how they could complement your objectives.
- Leverage on the network characteristics and members to engage actors that you want to collaborate with, especially if you want to involve the public administration and policy makers.
- A flexible network may allow for diverse organizational structures inside, but at the same time it is important to have common principles that provide an exchange and collaboration framework.
- Research is a powerful platform to facilitate exchanges, generate knowledge and experience, and set up organizational structures in the early steps of a global network.