SESSION NUMBER: 13
Manufacturing in the contemporary city
Marianna D'Ovidio – University of Milan-Bicocca
Valentina Pacetti – University of Milan-Bicocca
The transition from industrial to so-called “post-industrial” economies has deeply affected cities and the way they are sensed by citizens and city users.
A long process of deindustrialisation has been shaping the cities in the world following different patterns: the processes of delocalization, fragmentations, tertiarization in old industrial regions have been extensively studied. However, deindustrialisation has been largely acknowledged as a global phenomenon as shown, for instance, by the debate on premature deindustrialization.
In many regions, factories have abandoned the urban space, often creating large urban voids which have been representing both problems and opportunities for cities, and which have been shaping the urban agenda for a long time now.
Urban voids make deindustrialization clearly perceivable, but even in the strongest of “post-industrial” evolutions, fragments of manufacturing remain embedded in the urban thread. Moreover, along with interesting cases of reshoring, new forms of manufacturing, based on new digital technologies, have recently begun to emerge and are gradually regaining the urban space.
The availability of tools like additive manufacturing (3D printing), big data analytics and advanced algorithms, Internet of Things (IoT) platforms, and, in general, digital technologies, has created new possibilities for manufacturing and has reshaped the relationship with the cities: while the old factories challenged the cities with noise, smog and pollution, the new ones are clean, small and noiseless. They are both sustainable and potentially invisible. They are more integrated with cultural and service economies, and often lead to an increasing blurring of sectoral boundaries. They are embedded in the urban structure from an economic, social and morphological point of view: urban manufacturing may involve craft activities, industrial prototyping, art and design activities as well as the so-called digital manufacturing. All address “urban” market niches and use urban spaces in a new way.
Within the urban studies, the link between the city and its productive plants has been largely investigated in the past, when manufacturing production was a key economic driver for the urban society; this session focuses on the field of urban manufacturing within the contemporary “post-industrial” society, a topic that the urban studies research has not discussed very much. Not only is the empirical knowledge about it scarce (with notable exception), but also the analytical categories used in the past are no longer (or not always) useful to grasp the mechanisms at play (for instance, the relation between manufacturing activities and local employment rate is certainly different from the past).
In this session, we want to collect both theoretical and empirical contributions shedding light to the relation between manufacturing and the urban space. We are interested in the different facets of such relation, ranging from detailed descriptions of the phenomenon to theoretical discussions aiming at providing analytical tools for exploring it. The session will welcome papers discussing, for example (but not limited to), the following topics:
What has changed: which manufacturing activities have left the city? Which have stayed? Which are the new ones? Why? What are the prospects for those who are located within the urban landscape? What are the risks? What are the opportunities?
A focus on the productive and organisational aspects of the urban manufacturing: how “new” is the new urban manufacturing? Does it exploit new technologies? New organisational structures? Or are they “low-tech”, more traditional craft manufacturing industries?
The relation with the urban environment: How do these firms connect with the urban space? Do they integrate with it (acting also as agents of urban requalification), or, conversely, do they represent, as often in the past, an abrupt break in the urban tissue? How is urban manufacturing sensed in the urban space? How much noise, smell, image of the factories is perceived in the city?
How do cities (their governments, but also any other institutions, lobbies, stakeholders, …) respond to the changing industrial dynamics? Does the deindustrialisation narrative inform local development strategies, or are local governments developing specific policies in order to strengthen the urban manufacturing? What kind of idea of urban manufacturing circulates within local policies?
Which effects on the urban social structure does contemporary urban manufacturing bring about? Is it reinforcing inequalities, does it generate new ones? Or does it rather represent a tool able to reconnect the working and middle classes with the urban society?