Fab Cities

Fab City is a global initiative supporting the development of locally productive and globally connected self-sufficient cities. At its core, the Fab City concept aims to change the way cities produce and use materials and resources by shifting from a ‘Products in Trash Out’ (PITO) model to a ‘Data in Data Out’ (DIDO) model. On the one hand, this is translated into more production taken place inside the city and more recycled materials, adding value in every new product iteration and meeting local needs through local inventiveness. On the other, the city’s imports and exports are dealt as data (information, knowledge, design and code). The DIDO model is not circular but spiral: materials flow inside cities, while information on how things are made circulates globally.

The Fab City project was first launched in 2011 at the FAB7 conference in Lima by the Institut d’Arquitectura Avançada de Catalunya, the MIT Center for Bits and Atoms, the Fab Foundation and the Barcelona City Council. This initiative is open for cities, towns or communities to collectively build a more human and livable new world, joining the Barcelona pledge: a countdown for cities to become self-sufficient by 2054. It currently includes 34 cities across the globe.

In response to top-down and exclusive policies, Fab City emerged to create inclusive, holistic, and bottom-up open source solutions to meet the complex needs of the contemporary city. Fab Cities are co-designed collectively through an inclusive and equitable Commons Approach, engaging and empowering all citizens to create change. The process of co-creation and co-design is based on the Full Stack model (Diez 2018), which engages stakeholders across all levels of practice. To ensure inclusiveness, technology that supports the creation of the Fab City is people-centered and uses the Digital Commons Approach. In a Digital Commons Approach, information and technology used to create the city is both open source and open access. In contrast to policies and practices that are marked by theoretical, hands-off approaches, the Fab City tests research through a prototyping process. This innovative experimentation process uses pilots in order to prototype, test and develop solutions, which involve new relationships between stakeholders. Prototyping takes place in experimentation sites, which range from neighbourhoods to cities to whole regions, and are supported by the global Fab Lab Network and includes an international think tank of civic leaders, makers, urbanists and innovators. The Fab City initiative has an specific focus on including, collaborating with and supporting small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), a group that has faced large barriers to participating in more traditional Circular Economy initiatives.

The governance structure of the Fab City Global Initiative (FCGI) comprises the Fab City Network, organisations and public bodies (cities), and the Fab City Collective, which is composed by action researchers from different groups of the Fab City Full Stack model. Together, the FCGI members operate across the multiple levels of full-stack approach to change the mainstream urban paradigm. By means of the distributed Full Stack approach, the aim is to strengthen new collaborations between the government and citizens.

An Advanced Manufacturing Ecosystem of urban solutions from citizens, companies, educational institutions, and governments shapes options for governance, regulatory, funding and other policy responses at city level. Barcelona’s Poblenou district works as a Fab City prototype. The neighborhood, which is considered as the city’s maker district, follows a model of resilience where citizens are empowered through access to digital fabrication tools, collaborative projects and knowledge. In Poblenou, digital social innovation is fostered through the use of open technologies, which aim at transforming the district into a collaborative, democratic, inclusive and creative area for local innovation. The ecosystem is composed by a strong network of workshops, maker spaces, Fab Labs, universities, research institutions, restaurants, businesses and active social movements.

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