Champaign-Urbana Community Fab Lab
Champaign-Urbana Community Fab Lab

Makerspace: Towards a New Civil Infrastructure – Chris’s Thoughts

In an article titled, “Makerspace: Towards a New Civic Infrastructure,” researcher Will Holman explains the history of makerspaces and discusses their current status and value in society. The article was published last month and is interspersed with cool pictures of fab labs and makerspaces around the country.

Holman goes into detail about some of the creative spaces that could be seen as the earliest iterations of modern day makerspaces. Mechanics’ Institutes in the mid-1800’s had many of the same intentions as today’s makerspaces—promoting mechanical skills and a spirit of inventiveness.

Small public do-it-yourself spaces sprung up in San Francisco in the 1940’s. However, the modern makerspace movement has been more recent. The first Fab Lab was opened in the early 2000’s at MIT. Soon after, TechShop, the largest for-profit makerspace company, opened its first location. Since then, growth has been relatively rapid—however, there have been some notable failures and closures of makerspaces.

Holman discusses some of the pros and cons of the maker-movement. He notes that makerspaces disproportionately target male, well-educated, affluent individuals.

Holman talks about some cool inventions that have some out of makerspaces. The foldable Oru Kayak was one I found particularly cool.  Holman notes that the company Square has been the only hugely successful company attributed to the maker-movement.

Holman argues that makerspaces have often been evaluated with metrics normally used with startups:  “fast expansion, impressive investment, and the appearance of so-called ‘unicorns’ — ideas that blossom into companies worth billions.” Holman argues that we should use more broad and holistic metrics, but he doesn’t detail what exactly those metrics should look like.

Overall, the article was a good read and it’s worth a quick skim for the pictures alone. One of the biggest things I’m wondering after reading the article is if either the non-profit or for-profit makerspace model will eventually dominate the other.