Introduction: Making it Here

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How does manufacturing occupy space in the city today? The massive factories that made New York City a productive powerhouse around the turn of the last century are mostly gone, but the city’s unique complexity has allowed a host of increasingly specialized manufacturing firms to thrive and proliferate. Indeed, after decades of decline, parts of the city’s manufacturing sector are starting to grow again as a host of new social and technological forces are transforming the manufacturing sector into something more diffuse, diverse, and dynamic.

Open House New York is excited to announce the launch of Making it Here, a yearlong series of programs that explores manufacturing in the city today: what it looks like, how it works, and why it is so important to the future of New York. Through tours, talks, and other programs, New Yorkers will have a chance to visit and learn about how older industrial buildings, once considered outmoded, are being retrofitted to create spaces that reflect the changing needs of a manufacturing ecosystem that better integrates the design and production processes, as well as how some legacy manufacturers have adapted their businesses to shifting market dynamics, allowing them to thrive in place over time. Making it Here will also tour the spaces where entrepreneurs, technologists, and inventors are re-imagining manufacturing right here in the heart of the city through the development of new technologies like peer-to-peer platforms and 3D printing.

Making it Here marks the first time that OHNY has organized an entire series of programming around a specific theme, leveraging OHNY’s capacity for offering access and experience to give the public the unique opportunity to explore a single issue over many months. “As we know from the enormous audiences that attend OHNY Weekend and our other year-round programs, there is an intense interest among the public in better understanding New York: its buildings, its systems, its public spaces,” explains OHNY executive director Gregory Wessner. “In exploring a subject as broad as manufacturing, our goal is to give people a chance to learn about the city through the same kind of direct experience we offer in all of our programs, especially about an issue that is so important to the health and vitality of the city.”

In providing access to a system that often exists off of many New Yorkers’ radars, Making it Here will serve as a platform for a public discussion about how manufacturing fits into the five boroughs. The popular conception of the factory as a place of soot-belching smokestacks and dreary assembly lines obscures a fast-changing reality that necessitates a deeper public understanding of what making space for manufacturing in our neighborhoods means for our quality of life.

“While the noise and pollution associated with production has often isolated manufacturing to the city’s urban edges and the hinterlands, significant technological changes could make re-integration of manufacturing spaces into more mixed-use neighborhoods possible, and even desirable, in the near future,” says architecture critic and Vertical Urban Factory curator and project director Nina Rappaport. “When people actually have the chance to visit the manufacturing spaces that exist in New York City today and see them firsthand, it becomes evident that zoning needs to accommodate new and diverse uses for new kinds of manufacturing.”

Brooklyn Army Terminal_Nicolas Lemery Nantel

To expand the reach of Making it Here, the OHNY Blog will feature interviews throughout the year with a broad range of experts to shed light on what each site in the series illustrates about the forces at work in urban manufacturing. Through additional web content, Making it Here will also explore the land use and urban design challenges facing the manufacturing sector, as well as the unique benefits that an urban context offers manufacturers. In a city like New York, where many hyper-specialized economic sectors coexist in a densely populated space, demand is diverse and sophisticated, and more flexible production and distribution networks become vital. Given the high environmental costs associated with mass production and globalized supply chains, the “new manufacturing” spaces springing up across the city could even become a critical component of New York’s expansive sustainability goals, turning the old trope of dirty industry on its ear.

“Tremendous economic, technological and cultural forces are reshaping manufacturing, and that bodes well for cities” said Adam Friedman, director of the Pratt Center for Community Development and founder of the buy-local Made In NYC campaign.  “The need to reduce energy consumption, the benefits of having designers and producers clustered closely together so that they can innovate new products, and growing consumer demand for local products are driving the growth of local companies.  However, if the city wants to reap all of the benefits of this process we have to make sure that companies are able to scale up locally, which requires adequate industrial space among other things.”

In a city where demand for space is so high, where does manufacturing fit in? And in the age of globalization, when you can make something anywhere, what are the benefits of making it here? We look forward to exploring these and other questions with you over the coming year.

Making It Here is organized by Open House New York in partnership with NYCEDC, as well as with the Pratt Center for Community Development and Vertical Urban Factory. Click here to view the  schedule of upcoming events.