waterworks

A conversation on building a maker community: Philacentrics

I’m thankful I was included in a salon-style dinner among a dozen Philadelphia city creative and philanthropic leaders at the historic Waterworks restaurant. The prompt for the conversation over dinner was the ‘maker economy.’

The discussion focused on Philadelphia but clearly the themes tie to a lot of cities around the world today: how do we build a broad future economy? The conversation was off-the-record, but there were a few topics interesting enough to be worth sharing without attribution.

  1. Someone quoted Louis Kahn: “A city is the place of availabilities. It is the place where a small boy, as he walks through it, may see something that will tell him what he wants to do his whole life.”
  2. What are our railroads of the future? Baltimore was the country’s second largest city as late as 1850, but ultimately Philadelphia became the ‘Workshop of the World’ because of its railroad network, said one attendee. High-speed rail could reinforce that, but otherwise airport and Amtrak corridor prominence too will be important.
  3. “We study history not to predetermine the future but to better understand what is possible in the future,” said another attendee.
  4. “Philadelphia will soon lose the advantages of backwardness,” said another, as cities across the country return to prominence.
  5. What’s the difference between a maker and a manufacturer? Makers respond to the local market, while manufacturers are speculators for a broader market.

Here are a few things I shared for the conversation:

  • When we discuss developing a ‘maker community’ in a given place, I hear three different groups: advanced manufacturing, artists and small-scale hardware tinkerers and traditional trades
  • Our history does not earn us a place in the future — There was a lot of conversation about Philadelphia being the ‘ Workshop of the World’ in the 19th century. While there might be some infrastructure benefits from then, the culture does not guarantee anyone a role for the future.
  • Investment capital and government can’t stand in the way of a good business in the United States. Stop complaining and build great businesses.

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