By Joseph A. Curtatone
(The opinions and views expressed in the commentaries of The Somerville Times belong solely to the authors of those commentaries and do not reflect the views or opinions of The Somerville Times, its staff or publishers)
Last week, I attended the first-ever White House Maker Faire, where President Barack Obama announced a number of efforts to support the next industrial revolution that is happening right now in Somerville, across the region and the nation. As the President said, what better place than the United States for the maker movement to flourish? “This is a place where we know how to invent, and we know how to dream, and we know how to take risks,” he said, “and this is a place where people who work hard have always been able to make it. We want to make sure that continues.” President Obama’s words encapsulate the spirit of The Innovation City that is Somerville and the work we are doing to ensure that the maker movement can continue to flourish in our city.
Already a hot-bed of activity for makers, Somerville is well-poised to become a leading incubator for the maker movement. We sit at the center of the Tufts-Harvard-MIT triangle, where innovative ideas born from students and those in academe meet with the physical needs of industry found in our industrial spaces and workforce. But it’s about more than our proximity to higher education and our infrastructure assets. It’s about our community’s values—embracing innovation, the unusual, the funky and odd. From those core values, we take action by supporting strong science and technology education, and by setting forth a shared vision of how we want to build our physical infrastructure through sustainable, dense transit-oriented development where dreams can meet, ideas take root and grow.
We are making sure that our community remains fertile ground for those sprouting ideas by planning and investing today with an eye on tomorrow, something that we started 10 years ago by targeting economic sectors forecasted to grow during this decade, such as green energy and the precision manufacturing we see in the maker movement. Bringing those cutting-edge ideas and jobs to our city, while investing in our children’s education, gives our city, our residents and our kids the best chance to compete in the 21st century economy and raises the quality of life for all.
We’ve laid out our community’s vision for this future in SomerVision, which sets the table for how we will build our physical infrastructure to support the maker movement and innovative companies. SomerVision includes a commitment to artist and maker spacers, and our upcoming zoning overhaul will include creation of new fabrication and arts districts that preserve artist and maker spaces and live-work buildings. We also invest in too often overlooked infrastructure needs and enact business and economic development policies that encourage this creative movement. Creating an environment where new economy businesses like those born from the maker movement can take root and flourish requires a holistic approach, addressing all the systems that create that environment. That’s also why we have been investing in hands-on science and technology learning in Somerville Schools, and partner with local organizations like sprout & co. that are dedicated to the same values.
The maker movement has taken notice. You only need to visit Artisan’s Asylum and Fringe Union to see this creativity and innovation at work. Successful local companies like Cuppow are born out of those maker spaces, and e-commerce disruptor The Grommet moved to Davis Square specifically because of Somerville’s maker culture. And as maker companies and similar innovation start-ups look to grow, like Greentown Labs, they’re looking for the bigger maker spaces that Somerville can offer at lower costs than the Seaport in Boston or Kendall Square. This is not the start of a movement. It’s a sign that an urban manufacturing renaissance already underway is picking up speed—with Somerville at the vanguard.
And the maker movement complements the other innovation sectors in Somerville, like the clean tech movement at Greentown Labs and life sciences industry. We are helping build those connections by creating walkable, bikeable and transit-oriented neighborhoods with a mix of uses. That’s how we can create the ‘bump factor’ that happens in vibrant neighborhoods filled with creativity and innovation, where great minds meet and spark great ideas. We can see that today in Somerville when markers, artisans and clean tech innovators are bumping into one another, sharing ideas and working together.
As the President said at the Maker Faire, advances in technology have led to the democratization of manufacturing and we are “at the dawn of something big.” The maker movement is directly leading to new jobs and the rebirth of American manufacturing. By supporting this movement with our values, our planning and our collective vision for the future, we can grow the next great American economy right here in Somerville.