Principal findings from field trips
In June 2019, four researchers from the UK conducted a field trip in Shanghai. They visited three community centres in Yangpu District and three makerspaces.
Three community centre is as follows: Citizen Service Station of Quyang Community, Miyun Road Community Neighbourhood Centre, and Fuxin Road Community Neighbourhood Centre.
The field studies in China confirmed that existing community neighbourhood centres have strong potential to become community creative hubs. Firstly, they are strategically located in the middle of the communities. Secondly, they attract a wide range of users from the local areas. Activities during the daytime are often designed for older people (e.g. calligraphy), while those in the evening are suitable both families and working professionals, e.g. dancing and English classes. Moreover, the centres are well-supported by the local governments. Most activities (e.g. art & craft sessions) are often organised by the staff. However, many activities do not need any supervision. Local residents are welcome to use health-checking facilities, play areas, table tennis tables, libraries, etc. by themselves. The centres also support self-organised activities (e.g. a painting group) by providing spaces and displaying artwork. Many centres are part of the same service provision organisation and connected to each other via an online platform. They make good use of social media, such as WeChat, and their online platform to share photographs of previous events and update information about upcoming activities.
The centres generally welcome new ideas and suggestions. Local groups and external organisations can propose new activities on a voluntary basis, which will be assessed by the centre managers. Successful proposals may be funded by the local government, e.g. covering the cost of materials. Since most centres are designed to be multi-purpose, it is not suitable to create a fixed physical space dedicated to making activities only. The focus should be placed on providing means of making rather than physical spaces.
The UK research team also visited three types of makerspace: Xin Che Jian and Tongji Fablab O in Shanghai, and Shaji Village in Jiangsu.
Xin Che Jian is a commercial co-working establishment where professional makers and start-up entrepreneurs could rent spaces to produce their work. The place opens 24 hours per day and is well equipped with manual and digital fabrication tools for making. It regularly hosts a talk to encourage people to share ideas and learn from their peers. This helps its users connect to a wider community of makers. While it is successful in attracting foreigners, it has problems connecting with surrounding communities.
Fablab O is part of the College of Design and Innovation, Tongji University. It is also part of the Fab Lab Network. Thus, it adheres to principles of the Fab Foundation and Fab Academy. The organisation focuses on education, especially STEAM subjects, design thinking and human-centred design. It provides various courses (e.g. coding) for secondary school students as well as helps schools set up their own Fablabs. Fablab O also has problems connecting with surrounding communities due to their lack of interest in making.
Shaji is described as a Taobao village due to its strong connection with e-commerce (Taobao is a well-known Chinese online shopping website). The village was once an agricultural area. It has gone through rapid area development to become a large-scale design and manufacturing hub for e-commerce products (such as furniture, home decorative items and soft furnishing). In 2019, the village hosts more than 13,000 companies. It is often referred to as a great example of economic development through creative industries.
The visits revealed that community-based makerspaces are still rare in China since most makerspaces either target creative professionals/entrepreneurs or students. While many makerspaces act as a platform to help creative professionals/entrepreneurs launch their businesses, others are designed to train STEM subjects (e.g. coding) to secondary schools students. Subsequently, a place for the general public to explore ‘making’ is limited. In addition, current strategic frameworks in relation to creative development, e.g. the Shaji Village model, which recommends a combination of creative entrepreneurs and e-commerce as a winning formula, do not focus on fostering creative citizens.