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March 2015: Thinking Globally, Acting Locally

Johnstown_google aerial1Community of Ideas_March 2015-01

 

This month we are connecting the dots between global thought and local initiatives, exploring the Sharing Economy and the Maker Movement. How are these two national trends transforming the American marketplace and the development of one of our latest projects, Creator Square – an innovative artisan residency program we conceived for the heart of Johnstown, PA?

Creator Square

Creator Square is an urban revitalization, economic development, and job skills transfer program originated by Springboard Principal Paul Rosenblatt AIA and developed with economic consultant Donald Bonk, a Johnstown native. It is an artisan residency program based in the historic, rust belt community of Johnstown, PA, located one hour southeast of Pittsburgh. The goal of Creator Square is to bring skilled ‘makers’ to live/work studios at the city’s downtown epicenter, mix them with local makers, manufacturers and educational institutions, and connect Johnstown’s creative community, industrial infrastructure, and entrepreneurial activity. Members of the residency will receive national recognition, affordable live/work housing, access to new economy manufacturing equipment, skill transfer via collaborative work, career development guidance, teaching opportunities, and a financial stipend. Creator Square is a means for makers to create and sell their products nationally, a place for makers to teach and learn, and an opportunity to collaborate with local manufacturers on new ideas and products.

Creator Square is at the intersection between global thought and local initiative, a local application of the emerging global trends in both the collaborative economy and the maker movement.

Like many rust belt cities, Johnstown is populated with majestic historic buildings in various stages of vacancy. Last spring, Springboard Design began work with the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies and students from Carnegie Mellon University to identify an underused building for a pilot artisan-residency program. The three-story Parkview Building was selected, purchased, renamed the Johnstown Creator Center (JCC) and is  being adapted into an artisan studio building with four residential units, a common kitchen/gathering space, public gallery, and a shared workshop equipped with machinery for interdisciplinary craft, small batch manufacturing, and next-gen economic development.

While most architectural projects begin with an established program, Creator Square is still in its infancy. By this time next year, the JCC will become the center of a two-year artisan/maker residency program where the participants will share amenities to design and make products for their existing businesses. In addition to cultivating this makingeconomy and invigorating downtown Johnstown with new enterprise, another key tenet of the program is the active skills transfer between resident makers and the local community. This includes current and past workers in the defense related manufacturing sector. While having the opportunity to build their businesses, the makers in-residence – dubbed ‘Creative Masters’  – will also offer classes and workshops in their specialties in concert with local area colleges and other organizations. The program is designed to partner makers with local manufacturers and businesses, creating a supply chain of salvaged, reused, or scrap materials for their work.

National Recognition for Creator Square

Creator Square has rapidly become a reality over the past year, garnering national attention and funding, including support from the Pentagon’s Office of Economic Adjustment, the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies, R.K. Mellon Foundation, Greater Johnstown Regional Partnership, and Carnegie Mellon University. It is currently a finalist for the prestigious ArtPlace America grant – a funding program designed to invest in creative placemaking projects committed to strengthening the social, physical, and economic fabric of their communities. Johnstown Mayor Frank Janakovic was one of a handful of mayors who represented cities at the forefront of the maker movement at the White House last year as part of President Obama’s national maker initiative. Creator Square’s tremendous momentum has emerged from a basis of local interest and national maker-driven economic development initiatives.

Creator Square and the Sharing Economy

Creator Square is a maker-focused program immersed in the values of what is called the ‘sharing economy.’ In this program, resident makers share equipment, skills, and space, in order to cultivate innovation and energy in an underused urban site. The shared workshop equipment is a major draw for artisans who might not otherwise afford to own this equipment for their personal use. The common kitchen is a place for random and accidental collaboration which leads to innovative ideas emerging from creative people gathering over meals. The inherent social capital in repurposing a beautiful (but empty building) is significant, in addition to buying artisan-made products which innovatively incorporate second-hand or waste materials. Creator Square serves as both a community touchstone for connection with the arts and artisans and as a working space for makers, bringing a global focus on creative collaboration and sharing to a local context.

The Rise of the Sharing Economy

Take a long look at the American social and economic landscape and you may conclude that we are becoming significantly more comfortable with strangers. There is a growing sector of the economy predicated on sharing, often with people we have never met. The major vacation-rental company Airbnb (valued at $13 billion)1 simply facilitates the transaction between the out-of-town homeowner and the weary traveler seeking a room.  Lyft and Uber, both ride-sharing services which enable anyone with a car to become a for-hire taxi driver, have become the definitive powerhouses of the so-called “peer-to-peer revolution”2. Other services like Tradesy and Yerdle capitalize on swap trading  connecting consumers’ “haves” with other consumers “wants” in a way that removes money altogether. The redistribution market is closer to a high-tech bazaar than a pawn shop. These transactions, with and without money, are highly dependent on the built-in trust mechanisms for rating these exchanges. While businesses like Airbnb, Uber, or Yerdle exist in very different markets, they are predicated on a common foundation: collaborative consumption built on technologies which enable connections and heightened trust between strangers.

These on-demand services are dependent on a burgeoning preference for access over ownership. Businesses like Relay Rides or Peerby completely rely on this concept. No longer are you borrowing a cup of sugar from your neighbor; more likely, you’re borrowing their lawn mower, and they’re borrowing your car. For some, the proposition of paying for a ride through Uber, or renting a car through Zipcar, may be more favorable than carrying the costs of maintaining a personal vehicle.  Conversely, there is an appeal for product owners or homeowners who can turn their idling home or tools into extra income by renting them out via these tech-based services. These “product service systems”3 mean that many consumers have the potential to enjoy the benefits of a product without owning it.

These businesses are receiving national headlines for their rapid growth, and admittedly, their controversial profiteering methods. While some have been patronized for allegedly exploitive practices, there are forces at play that nonetheless catalyzed this burgeoning demand: “a renewed belief in the importance of community, a torrent of peer-to-peer social and real-time technologies, pressing unresolved environmental concerns, and global recession that has fundamentally shocked consumer behavior.”4 For these reasons, the on-demand economy of ride-sharing, house-sharing, even time-sharing, has grown in the last decade from relatively unknown businesses to major enterprises integral to the way many live in modern US cities.

The Maker Movement

If you have recently been to a craft fair or shopped on Etsy, you will know first-hand that the “maker movement” is alive and well. The “maker movement” essentially references the recent evolution of the DIY culture that often exists at the crosshairs of engineering-oriented trades (such as computered milling machines, aka CNC milling) and traditional craft trades (for example, woodworking). “Maker” has become the umbrella term for “independent inventors, designers and tinkerers… a convergence of computer hackers and traditional artisans” 5.

Today, approximately 135 million U.S. adults identify themselves as makers. Since its launch in 2005, the online market Etsy has grown into a substantial network of 1.4 million active sellers6, 74% of whom identify their Etsy “shops” as an extension of their primary business and earned income.7 This rise of artisan-entrepreneurship is partly a result of out-of-reach technologies (a la e.g. 3D printers) becoming more readily available to the public. Coupled with the modern mantra of open-source learning, many Americans have taken advantage of these new opportunities to pursue their craft and capitalize on their artistic pursuits according to USA Today, maker-based business is contributing $29 billion to the world economy each year.8 This past June, the Obama administration hosted the first- ever White House Maker Faire in Washington, D.C. This event involved “students, entrepreneurs and everyday citizens who are using new tools and techniques to launch businesses, learn vital skills in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), and lead a grassroots renaissance in American manufacturing”9.  As the White House has identified, the Maker Movement is a growing economic force in the United States which has the potential to democratize production, enable innovation, and re-imagine manufacturing. This potential for revitalization is becoming increasingly relevant in the national arena, and especially in our work in Johnstown, PA.

By Cassandra Osterman and Paul Rosenblatt AIA

Citations
1 Joel Stein, “My wild ride through the new on-demand economy,” Time Magazine, January 29, 2015, accessed March 15, 2015, http://time.com/3687305/testing-the-sharing-economy/
2 Rachel Botsman, “The case for collaborative consumption,” TEDxSydney, May 2010, accessed March 10, 2015,  http://www.ted.com/talks/rachel_botsman_the_case_for_collaborative_consumption
3  ibid   /   4  ibid
5 “Which big brands are courting the maker movement, and why,” Adweek, March 17, 2014, accessed March 22, 2015, http://www.adweek.com/news/advertising-branding/which-big-brands-are-courting-maker-movement-and-why-156315
6  Vikram Nagarker, “Etsy IPO: All you need to know about Etsy,” Amigobulls.com, March 19, 2015, accessed March 22, 2015, http://amigobulls.com/articles/etsy-ipo-all-you-need-to-know-about-etsy
7  Kathleen Davis, “The ‘Etsy Economy’ and Changing the Way We Shop,” Entrepreneur Magazine, March 22, 2013, accessed March 15, 2015, http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/226180
8 Tim Bajarin, “Why the maker movement is important to America’s future,” Time Magazine, May 19, 2014, accessed March 15, 2015, http://time.com/104210/maker-faire-maker-movement/
9  “FACT SHEET: President Obama to Host First-Ever White House Maker Faire,” Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, June 18, 2014, accessed March 15, 2015, https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/06/18/fact-sheet-president-obama-host-first-ever-white-house-maker-faire