Cities of Making – exploring the what, where and how of 21st century urban manufacturing in European cities


Cities of Making (CoM) is supported in the JPI Urban Europe ENSUF call and explores the future of urban based manufacturing in European cities in terms of technologies and resources, space and governance. Following years of decline and offshoring, European cities are being confronted by a range of issues simultaneously: firstly, manufacturing jobs have shifted quickly to services and have created large gaps in the employment market, concepts such as circular economy are being taken seriously by cities and finally new technology is emerging allowing industry to be quieter and more discrete. CoM explored the role of urban based manufacturing in the 21st century and developed tools to help drive a new age of urban manufacturing.  


The Cities of Making project focused on London, Rotterdam and Brussels, all three cities with a distinct industrial heritage. When talking about the international nature of this project Adrian Hill, project coordinator, reasons that it has been critical from the start. When dealing with such a diverse topic as urban manufacturing it was essential to have a team with hands on experience from different sectors and geographical areas. The three cities are geographically close, but were selected as they have very different histories of manufacturing and very different governance systems.

“Stories about urban manufacturing had been told from different perspectives, but there was no holistic understanding of what the topic was actually about”

When starting the project, the general perception was that urban manufacturing was in inevitable decline. Yet as the team discovered, it was a topic poorly understood and there was no holistic understanding of what urban manufacturing was about. The primary aim was to illustrate a narrative for urban manufacturing in the 21st century, not only based on literature and science but from hands on experience. This involved exploring several related issues such as material flows, industrial innovation, logistics, social inclusion, real estate pressures and environmental issues.

One key to success for this project has been communication. Dealing with a complex topic, they were aware of the risk that stakeholders might be hesitant to get a full understanding of the issues if the communication itself also was complex. Adrian explains that they wanted the results to be available to a broad audience, not only to those already familiar with the topic. As a result, the book “Foundries of the Future: A Guide for 21st Century Cities of Making” was published earlier this year. The book sheds light on the ways manufacturing can address urban challenges, it exposes constraints for the manufacturing sector and provides fifty patterns for working with urban manufacturing. The book is meant to be used as a manual to help politicians, public authorities, planners, designers, and community organisations to plan, discuss and collaborate by developing more productive urban manufacturing.

In addition to the published book, the project has also produced a set of Pattern Cards as a communication tool. These 50 cards are categorised in either Resources & Technology, Space or People & Governance as a way to filter content and be of value across sectors. The cards can be understood as a synthetic story of the research and each pattern card consists of the context it is embedded in, problems that it tackles, forces that might influence it and ideas for possible solutions. They should be used to bring actors together across sectors and to be an incentive to start concrete discussions. As a proof of their functionality, the cards are already in use in an ESPON funded project where seven cities are using them for constructive discussions.

“Our project focused on urban manufacturing, but you can easily switch the context to another topic that is more relevant for a certain city such as climate change, changes in employment structure, mobility etc. “

Although the book and cards are already in use, Adrian explains that they are yet to find out the long-term implications of the research. A topic as complex as urban manufacturing needs a new way of thinking and it needs to be developed together with cities. There is a need for cities to change the way they deal with industrial land and manufacturing, something that will not happen before there is an appreciation of how manufacturing underpins a range of activities that cities depend on. Adrian continues “our project focused on urban manufacturing, but you can easily switch the context to another topic more relevant for a certain city such as climate change, changes in employment structure, mobility etc.” increasing the relevance of such tools for cities with different challenges. Much of this Adrian says comes down to facilitation. The Cities of Making team have already experienced shorter term breakthroughs with interest from public authorities using the book and cards as facilitation tools, and from metropolitan areas opening possibilities for further research in urban manufacturing.

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