QUEENS, N.Y. — The maker movement is helping to redefine manufacturing in New York City and around the world, a panel of city officials and industry experts said last month at MakerCon. The advent of smaller production volumes, collective workspaces, and refined equipment is paving the way for a 21st century Industrial Revolution, they said.
"I think a maker city is like a jazz city. Jazz is about individual performance, but it demands selfless collaboration," said Peter Hirshberg, chairman of The Re:imagine Group, quoting the trumpeter and urbanist Wynton Marsalis. "We call this a maker movement because we have a lot to get done. It is the core building block that will lead to the reinvention of our cities."
The New York City maker movement came about organically, with hacker spaces such as NYC Resistor giving rise to hardware startups and incubators. The NYC Department of Design and Construction then put its support behind them, Hirshberg said, leading to a reinvigorated industrial landscape.
"In a maker city, a wide cross-section of hardware and software types, students, designers, and so on come together and crowdsource solutions or create prototypes," he said. "We take greater ownership, have a sense of agency. We carry out the principles of democracy in a digital and maker age."
A view of the Brooklyn Navy Yard facilities from above.
(Image: Navy Yard/Google)
Through a series of development initiatives that pair makers with creators, engineers, and workers in traditional manufacturing, the Brooklyn Navy Yard and other formerly derelict or underutilized spaces in New York City showcase a novel mashup of traditional manufacturing and high tech. Approximately 275 companies have found a home in the 4 million-plus-square-foot Navy Yard, Hirshberg said, creating 6,400 new jobs.
The facility fell into disrepair after the exodus of manufacturing in New York in the late 1970s and 1980s. Following a renewal of the site, the Navy Yard is the home of new companies such as New Lab, which provides shared spaces for 3D printing, prototyping, and manufacturing.
"New York City is supposed to be sort of a design hub," David Belt, the developer of New Lab, told The New York Times in 2013. "I was frustrated seeing so much time and effort pumped into software. I'm more interested in products and hardware."
The nonprofit New York City Economic Development Corporation (CEDC) is working with city officials and private entities on a variety of infrastructure and development initiatives, including development of a rapid prototyping fabrication map to identify places where makers can hone their skills and create projects.
"This really embodies what we try to do at the city -- convene thought leaders… to address challenges and issues," said Miquela Craytor, director of NYC Industrial and Income Mobility Initiatives, a project of the CEDC. "It's not just about learning where those locations are, but creating an ecosystem, finding talent to develop that business, and finding systems to develop those new technologies."