Every decade, the traditionally-laconic city of Fort Worth, Texas rolls up its sleeves and puts together a ten-year urban development and renewal plan. Citizen participation has been a key factor for the success of many projects in those plans, and this year the city took advantage of modern collaboration technology to make that even easier.
Built on collaborative engine mindmixer, Downtown Fort Worth’s Plan 2023 aims to engage solution-minded citizens in not just simple poll-taking but original idea submission and threaded discussion as well. As word of the project spread, via twitter and more conventional means, contributions quickly ramped up. As of this writing, there are over 150 submissions proposing a wide range of improvements and additions to the downtown area of the “sixteenth most populous city in the US” (from Wikipedia).
One of those suggestions is mine: creation of a “hackerspace” or makerspace for the heart of the city. The area has long been noted for its engineering resources, such as Lockheed Martin, Radio Shack and nearby Texas Instruments, so a facility designed to support innovators should fit right in. There are related efforts in and around Dallas, ranging from the homespun Dallas Makerspace to the more upscale Gravity Centre in Plano, but nothing for downtown Fort Worth.
In my various event and meetup appearances around DFW I’ve put this idea across to local techies and have been met with overwhelmingly positive responses. In fact, this proposal is one of the more popular at Plan 2023 and was mentioned several times in a recent public discussion of the overall project. I’m hopeful for further follow-up.
For those unfamiliar, think of a hackerspace or makerspace as a site open to the public, sporting manufacturing and related equipment typically out of reach of the average innovator. Customers would range from crafters to lay scientists and comprise any creative enterprise imagineable. It would be a home for tinkerers and tailors, origami enthusiasts and 3D printers. Students could find enthusiastic mentors for their Science Fair projects.
A collaboration center is a great starting point for reinvigorating our technical base and getting new businesses off of the ground, but that’s just a start. Even something as self-sustaining as a hackerspace requires enabling infrastructure. Restaurants, pubs, shops and open gathering spaces are all necessary, ancillary components of a dream like this. I have recommended that we first look to New Factory in Tampere, Finland for inspiration but we can also find relevent examples as close to home as Austin, Texas. There’s plenty of potential real estate, too, along Jones Street and possibly Lancaster. To see my own proposal for a comprehensive plan, see the Jones Street Master Revitalization Plan.
While I hope to see a taxpayer-owned facility established, I’m sure we could make a partially- or wholly-commercial sponsored solution work as well. Something like TechShop, which reportedly has plans for a site somewhere in the Dallas-Fort Worth region*. As for sponsors, local hero Radio Shack has expressed interest, as has the downtown arm of the University of Texas at Arlington.
Plan 2023 as a whole asks participants to reimagine downtown Fort Worth and share their visions. The mindmixer tool has the basic features to support this but could go farther. From little things like editable comments to greater functionality such as integrated meetup support, I would like to see mindmixer take a cue from the projects it hosts and add some improvements.
All in all, though, this is a wonderful opportunity for citizens to “hack” their urban environment and I can’t wait to see the results.
*this information was provided to me in error. The actual location is in Roundrock, Texas (north of Austin)