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Posted 01.07.19

Plymouth becomes the UK’s first city to join Fab City network

By Phillip Buchan

Ian Hutchinson and Oli Raud from Plymouth College of Art at the Fab City Summit

It was announced at the 2019 Fab City Summit in Amsterdam, as part of the We Make the City Festival, that Plymouth has become the UK’s first city to join the Fab City network. Plymouth will not only be the first UK Fab City but also the world's first twin Fab City, twinned with Brest, France, which joined the Fab City network in 2017. 

Plymouth has joined a network of cities, regions and countries that have pledged to work towards producing everything they consume by 2054. Individuals, FabLabs, city officials, charities and education providers collaborate locally as part of the initiative to implement new urban models, through interventions in governance and policy.

Plymouth College of Art, Plymouth City Council, the University of Plymouth and the Real Ideas Organisation worked jointly on a commitment towards becoming the UK’s first Fab City. Together, these partner organisations agree to commit efforts and resources in order to achieve the 2054 challenge for cities to produce all the energy, food and products they consume, and to deploy spiral economy strategies for the relocalisation of production, and the technological empowerment of citizens.

“In an increasingly polarised society and with climate change presenting an existential threat to our way of life, we need to act, and act now."

– Oli Raud, Plymouth College of Art

Leader of Plymouth City Council Tudor Evans OBE said: “Another first for Plymouth in the UK.

Tudor Evans OBE

“We know that we all need to radically rethink our approach to living, working, producing and consuming if we are to tackle climate change and other issues that affect people – regardless of where they live.

“Being a Fab City means we can work more together with other cities to learn from each other, share ideas and research to resolve problems we all face.

“Plymouth has some outstanding global institutions which are already forging links with organisations across the world to work more collaboratively on a huge range of issues – from better drainage to campaigning to reduce plastic, marine research and product design.

"This is exciting, it involves lots of young dynamic people trying out ideas, thinking creatively on a global scale. Britain’s Ocean City is continuing to make waves.”

The Fab City Global Initiative, begun in 2016, now includes 34 participating cities, regions and countries, among them Detroit, Amsterdam, Bhutan, Shenzhen, Ekurhuleni, Santiago de Chile, Boston and Paris.

Oli Raud, Strategic Funding Manager at Plymouth College of Art, said: “This is a momentous occasion for the city of Plymouth and Fab Lab Plymouth. We’ve worked hard at Plymouth College of Art to bring this opportunity to the attention of civic leaders and other leading organisations across the city. As a city of makers, social entrepreneurs, activists and explorers, the concept of the Fab City movement was made for a city like Plymouth. It’s a privilege to work towards this goal with Plymouth City Council, the University of Plymouth and the Real Ideas Organisation.

“In an increasingly polarised society and with climate change presenting an existential threat to our way of life, we need to act, and act now. I was proud to represent Plymouth at the 2019 Fab City summit. The hard work begins now, as we build a sustainable and inclusive model of locally productive and globally connected growth. I hope other organisations in the city will join us in making this pledge a reality.”

Alfie Smith 3D printing in the Made at EU project at Plymouth College of Art

Professor Chris Bennewith, Head of the School of Art, Design and Architecture at the University of Plymouth, added: “This is another example of creative collaboration helping to put Plymouth on the global map as a centre for innovation and ingenuity. Through initiatives such as this, and the iMayflower project announced earlier this year, the city is showing it has the ambition and expertise to keep transforming itself and the people who live, work, study and visit here.

“The University of Plymouth has always prided itself on interdisciplinary research and teaching that has individual and collective sustainability and social responsibility at its core. Our pioneering work on Smart Cities, Big Data, energy and transport – as well as our current investment in a DigiFab Lab – will expand this and ensure Plymouth remains at the forefront of innovation in this area.”

Inclusive growth

Lindsey Hall, CEO of the Real Ideas Organisation and co-Chair of Plymouth’s Inclusive Growth Group said: “Being the UK’s first Fab City is timely recognition of the commitment made by public, private and third sector organisations in Plymouth to work towards inclusive economic growth that makes our city fairer and more sustainable for all the people who live, work and visit.

Students in Fab Lab Plymouth

“As a city of makers, we are innovating and making new futures across the board, from cutting edge immersive technologies, digital fabrication and the Smart Sound to community breweries, making spaces and reducing food waste. Being part of a global network is an important next step. The Real Ideas Organisation is delighted to be a key partner and are particularly excited that our new inclusive growth leadership programme comes at an ideal moment to contribute to achieving the pledge.”

Within Devon and Cornwall, Plymouth College of Art is already home to Fab Lab Plymouth and Exeter Library is home to FabLab Devon. A Digital Fabrication Lab and Immersive Visualisation Suite is also currently under construction at the University of Plymouth. More widely, Ocean Studios is a space for makers, Makers HQ supports short run textile production and in 2020, the Market Hall Immersive Technology Centre will open.

A global network of FabLabs

Fab City grew out of the global community of FabLabs, which now number over 1,000 facilities in around 80 countries worldwide. The first FabLab was created in 2001, growing over time into a worldwide Fab Lab Network movement in which the number of labs has doubled approximately every 18 months.

Students at work in the Atlantic Youth Creative Hubs project in Fab Lab Plymouth

From community-based labs to advanced research centers, Fab Labs share the goal of democratizing access to the tools for technical invention. This community is simultaneously a manufacturing network, a distributed technical education campus, and a distributed research laboratory working to digitize fabrication, inventing the next generation of manufacturing and personal fabrication, along with the next generation of thinkers and makers. 

What does a Fab City do?

The Fab City concept was created to offer incentive for cities to engage and establish new urban systems that are regenerative and restorative by design, encouraging city leaders to work innovatively to meet progressive social, economic, governance and sustainable development goals.

Signatories to the Fab City manifesto agree to implement ten principles to enable the urban transition towards locally productive and globally connected cities. The manifesto includes the following pledge: “We embrace strategies in circular economy and digital social innovation, and foster collaboration between a global network of European and worldwide cities and territories to meet the planetary challenges presented by climate change and social inequalities.”

Currently there are no cities among the Fab City network that are considered to be have achieved Fab City status. The indicators and metrics by which progress towards attaining the Fab City label are measured undergo constant review.

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