A Maker City is a Jazz City 

Like jazz, a maker city is about the interconnectivity of ideas, innovation and improvisation.


Kirkpatrick: People, like Tianna are working on projects like that. Our next speaker is similarly engaged in something that he created himself and that’s even tied in to what she was talking about, what our opening panel talked about. And before I get him up here—Peter, you can kind of migrate toward the stage—we have this great script writer, Phreddy Wischusen that I mentioned if anybody was here last year. I’ve got to read what he wrote about Peter here for you. He said, “Three out of four members of the band Pink Floyd where trained as architects.” Okay. “Although they may have never drafted a blueprint professionally, they went on to construct cathedrals of song. Instead of building a wall, they recorded it. Our next presenter is finding ways to bring musical concepts into the municipality of the maker.” Okay that’s creative. But Peter is a real expert on making cities better, and he’s going to tell us what he’s been doing with that. So, Peter.

Hirshberg: Thank you, David. And we’ll talk about why a maker city is a jazz city. You know, this is a term of art that’s only about a year old. Dale Dougherty, who runs “Make Magazine,” and I were looking at the fact that across the board there’s such interesting economic development going on in cities and such different patterns, where this maker mentality of you can do it yourself, you’re not waiting for the government to do it, such new forms of creativity as well as civic engagement, it suggested that there was kind of a new term of art out there, and it’s so very different than the ways we look at both building our cities and building the economy in the past.

A really good example of that is, let’s contrast it with the twentieth century. We did things in such a top down way in the twentieth century. It’s how we conceived of architecture, how we built cities. I don’t think Robert Moses would be terribly pleased to hear Carl Bass talk about the make-y way is that instead of factories we have such small local production, or to hear David Kirkpatrick talk about the ways in which we’re doing civic innovation. Now, it turns out that when jazz came in and it debuted, it too was criticized as messy, complicated, and irrationally improvisational. It was called the devil’s music. And Thomas Edison banned jazz from his phonograph invention. He just did not want it out there. He said that it actually sounded better backwards. And I think this is a wonderful analogy. It’s kind of Jane Jacobs versus Robert Moses, the fight between the well-organized, the predictable and the orderly, and the complexity and the cacophony of the city.

What we value in cities mirrors this debate. And if you think about the smart city, a concept about six years old, originally that was a very top down thing also. It was something IBM would do to your city for a couple billion dollars. It was a transaction, hopefully, they hoped, between the mayor and her IT person and IBM. But what we’ve learned now is it’s a very different pluralistic thing. The White House announcement yesterday, $160 million dollars, was about dozens of agencies, labs all over New York City, all sorts of safety projects. The idea is that many, many organic projects from the bottom up begin to kind of define both the contour of the smart city, lots of complex things connected together, as well as economic development.

Another project from the White House, and one that I’ve been very much involved in, is one that we call the Maker City Project. And here’s where it came about. At the White House Makers Fair last year—and why was there a White House Makers Fair? Because the President hopes that economic development is going to get spurned by all these experiments going on in our cities. So at the White House Makers Fair, we had 100 US cities sign up and take a pledge to develop various forms of bottom up making economic activity. We’re going to do stem education, we’re going to have maker spaces, we’re going to support urban manufacturing. And that group of 100 cities—and this is kind of the confederated brilliance of Americans, so many experiments going on—initially produced the Mayor’s Maker Action Report, which was kind of a report of what was going on, and we realized so much activity was going on that wasn’t being documented that we’ve kind of formed this into a network of over a 100 US cities. We’re now at work on connecting them, building a maker city playbook, and we’re learning a lot from that. So I want to share some of that with you.

So why do we call a maker’s city a jazz city? Well, one reason is, look at the time that we’re in. There’s so many new ideas and materials to combine, ways of working, and code that the only way we’re going to arrive at kind of new solutions is through a great deal of improvisation. And if you look back historically, jazz exploded in America during the second Industrial Revolution. It’s when cities were ascended and, you know, you had all these influences pouring in. You had African Americans coming up from the South, you had people coming over from Eastern Europe and kind of connecting on Broadway, and it was a time of incredible learning and also, you know, some difficulty because so many people were streaming into cities.

Here’s Wynton Marsalis describing jazz, but he could be talking about what it means to build a great city. He says, “The real power and innovation of jazz is that a diverse group of people come together to create an improvised art and negotiate their agendas. The negotiation is the art. Jazz is about the individual performance, but it demands selfless collaboration.” And you see this in the form of how we’re adapting the maker movement and the grammar of technology of Technonomy in cities. If you go to NYU Polytechnic, you can meet Luke DuBois. Luke is a professor there and a designer, and Luke told me that when they’re teaching engineering now, everything is an ‘and’: engineering and soft circuits, fashion and sensors, art and advanced manufacturing. It really is a form of jazz exposing students to so much. And here’s Luke:


“In a weird way, engineering historically has been almost aspirationally white collar. You don’t want to get your hands dirty. You get to look at the blueprints and order around the people who get their hands dirty, right? And what we’re finding now is there’s this like really interesting strategic inversion in that thought process where the more you get your hands dirty, the more innovative you are. So like with our students, we’re doing all these classes now that are all about project based learning, right? You’re just constantly making, and that kind of tinkering thing creates whole new avenues of expertise. Like you get your chops up in different ways.”


So education is completely adapting to this, or certainly beginning to. If you go to ManufactureNew York in New York City, that’s a 40,000 square foot facility, actually now going to 400,000 square feet, that’s focused on reinventing the fashion industry. And the idea is bring in one place 30 contract manufacturers, emerging fashion designers, research into new forms of fiber, kind of like a media lab meets fashion, and they believe they’ll be able to turn out about 15,000 kind of products a week and build a stable fashion industry in New York City. And this is—you know, if you think about what Carl said earlier about factories going from kind of big factories to local things, this is the hope of a stable ecosystem in New York, not because you’re interested in artisan manufacturers or something patriotic, but because in the grammar of the current world that might work better as an alternative to the global supply chain.

In New York, the Brooklyn Navy Yard is another wonderful example of this. We’ll take a look at that:


“New York City has been working to redevelop the Brooklyn Navy Yard, bring it back to life, recreate it as a home for good paying industrial jobs. What you have is manufacturing in the traditional sense of making things, but it’s being combined with high end design, with new technology, with art, woodworking, metalworking.”

“Currently, the Navy Yard has 275 businesses and we’ve created about 6,400 jobs.”

“We’re doing a project doing the new lab. We’re creating spaces which will be shared by a whole series of innovative companies, based around rapid prototyping, new manufacturing, and 3-D printing. We’re hoping just to become a catalyst that will spawn a whole slew of different types of economic innovation.”


And this is a group that’s learning that that rich bouillabaisse of skills, when they’re kind of put in community together, are a really great place to build new kinds of products. And they’ve also realized that the average size of a factory, there’s 4,000 square feet with advanced technology, they’re never going to rent 200,000 square feet again, but that’s kind of what that economy looks like.

This is at the TechShop—I think that’s Mark Hatch in the background. This form of how people collaborate is exploding in many places. At Arizona State University, they opened up their maker space to the community so you could have more engagement. Yale University made this available to undergraduates as part of a liberal arts education, because we’re breaking down this barrier that says there’s people who think and there’s people who make and there’s two different classes. Clearly, part of jazz is that stuff’s coming together.

Now, here we are in the tech industry, we think this is such a great new idea. If that’s the case, why did we have the Americas Making Exposition in 1921 in New York at the Armory? And it’s because at that moment, when people were streaming into cities and there was all of this contention from people from different countries and the same kind of immigrant issues that we face now, New York realized if you celebrated the Italians who make marble and the Yugoslavs who make wood, if you show this pluralistic diversity, you’d be on to something.

And maker cities are also very inclusive. A great example of this is Pittsburgh. So Pittsburgh used to be industrial, has now kind of moved into software. They have over 2,000 maker professionals, 200 maker spaces, and they learned if they network them all together and learned, they could revolutionize education. It turns out you have to connect the nodes. And one of the best examples of this was the Elizabeth Forward School, about 30 miles outside of Pittsburgh, in Allegheny County. They took a school district and now completely have kind of interdisciplinarianized it, and this gives you a sense for how this is flowing down into education.


“The Dream Factory is a combination of three classes that were previously separated, the art room, the tech-ed room, and computers.”

“All three teachers collaborate and bring together art and engineering.”

“When it’s hands on learning, it’s something that you want to do.”

“What we need are measurements. When you have a board, take a look at your board.”

“I think it adds to our traditional wood shop, metal shop.”

“Students are programming interactive games, building robots.”

“Do they want to do 3-D printing, do they want to do painting, do they want to do sculpture?”

“This is not a gifted program, it’s not an after school activity. Every kid is getting this in our



And you know how tough it is to reform a school system. This is actually a school system that just said, “We’re behind, we have to make changes.”

A final portion that I want to talk about is the maker city—let’s move to the next slide, please—is agency. This stuff really empowers people. Now, we’ve seen a lot of it in civic tech, but I’m also talking about the urban forum. You may be aware of the case of Jason Roberts, who lived in Dallas, traveled overseas and saw streetcars and said, “How come we don’t have this kind of stuff?” There were tracks, but they pulled the streetcars out long ago. He said, “We ought to have this.” And the city said, “No, no, you’re in the suburb. You have cars.” And then he formed the Oak Cliff Transit Authority and started working on it, and the city said, “You cannot form an authority.” But he did. And then they lost federal funding in Dallas for another project, and because he was organized, he got the $30 million dollars—this would piss off Robert Moses.

Now, this inspired me, and San Francisco inspired me to make the San Francisco Urban Prototyping Authority. But it wasn’t a joke, because now a formal portion of our city planning in fact is how can we get citizens and artists and designers and makers to work on the future of our city? So the final thing I want to share with you today is Market Street, two miles from the bay, all the way up to City Hall is being redesigned as greener, no private cars, more open, and the question was how would you make that an activated fun place. And the answer is you open it up to 50 projects. So we divided the city into five parts, we had 50 teams, and now we’re conceiving of our city as a whole bunch of interactive Lego pieces that make the design much better.


“We’re looking for a way, a process to actually bring that out into a public realm, and we thought our most important civic space, Market Street, would be a great place to start it. But how do you actually give that sense of individual agency to the community and to the residents of San Francisco.”

“It’s not traditional public art. It’s not commissioned, juried, incubated deeply, and it’s not thought of in a permanent or even semi-permanent way. Prototyping is something different. It’s process in the public space, it’s experimentation. And the prototypes that we’ve selected, I consider all of them to be artistic. And what I’m after there is an expanded definition of what art is.”

“I’d like to see a world where more people think of themselves as artists, and where artists are less marginalized and much more a part of the on going conversation in the ongoing fabric of their city.”


What’s amazing about this is, in social media five years ago, brands and news organizations learned they couldn’t build without their public. You try telling that to a city planner or an architect. But that’s kind of what’s going on here. And also, when these things go up, there’s incredible experimentations and mistakes made, and improve, and in the first few hours things are improved, and the plan now is, as we rebuild Market Street quite literally, it’s Legos, it’s changeable, it adapts, it learns, it’s jazz.

I think—if we could just go to the next slide—as we wrap up, I think America’s at a frontier again. I mean, this nation has always been about going west and trying what’s new, and we thought we ran out of frontier. But in fact, all of this reinvention in cities is just that. Louis Brandeis talked about the fact that, because we’re so federated, each state can try its own thing and be a laboratory for democracy. And in his recent book on civic jazz, Kenneth Clark says that, “Playing jazz properly requires each performer to turn a mistake or unfortunate occurrence into something great.” And I think that’s a bit of what’s going on in this thing that we call the maker city, because it now engages all of us, much more of an invitation for people to participate. We’re clearly kind of re-embracing the urban forum. Manufacturing’s changing, and the place we’re going to look for the future of all this is in all of these experiments going on in America’s cities. And that’s the reason I became excited about all this.

You know, when this whole project began, I set out looking for maker cities, but what I kind of found was the American dream reinventing itself with these deeply resonant threads. If association is the mother of all science, which is what Tocqueville said, you’d see this kind of social capital at work in these 900 maker spaces and co-working spaces and civic projects that are going on in America. And, you know, at the end of the day, the maker movement is really about this sense of personal agency, liberty, and invention. This is something with Franklin written all over it. It’s clearly diverse and pluralistic and federated. I think Madison and Ellington and Ellis Island would all be at home in this new maker city, which is made possible by the things we’re talking about here at Techonomy. Thanks.


Kirkpatrick: Thank you so much, Peter. And I should tell you all, Peter wrote a piece about this that we published on the Techonomy website just yesterday, or the night before last, and he also didn’t play up the Burning Man association, but there’s very strong influence of his experience at Burning Man, and how he’s thinking about the cities—