But what do the industrial carcasses and European “Disneylands” have in common? All are symptoms of the narrowing of value towards economic gains without a strategic understanding of the robust framework needed to provide cities with resilience to economic change. For this we need to incorporate a deeper understanding of sustainability. Part of the puzzle is also retaining the knowledge, know-how and culture of making and industrial production. The culture innate in industrial production and craftsmanship has been abolished so completely that the only value we now see in it is utilitarian production for the sake of consumption. However, the know-how of workers and craftsmen stands out in its ability to make things in many different ways under many different conditions based on their experience and practice. 5 This brings about a culture that is accreted around daily practices and transcends the meagre act of producing an object for consumption. One of the crucial and significant shifts that supports this development is the emergence of “reshoring”, or reintroducing domestic manufacturing to a country.
The cultural and economic benefits of reactivating “making know-how” are being confirmed by the global producers of household appliances such as General Electric (GE) and that all-time favourite referent, Apple Inc.6 Reshoring processes in the last ten years have been shown to be an interesting step forward, but it remains to be seen how effective it will be on the economies of the Global North. A good case in point is the example of General Electric that brought the assembly of its water heaters back to the USA.7 The connection between the engineering knowledge in the R&D department and the production knowledge of welding in the P&A department has been identified as critical to producing more efficient and cheaper products. This connection is not possible within the “offshored” global value chains stretching as far as the coastal areas of China.
Instead of life where the only measure of value is “utility of production” and “economy of culture”, the approach outlined above brings the value of “production culture” back to our cities. As workers’ conditions gradually improve in China – with increasing demands for more rights and higher payment – it is hard to imagine a continuation of the current socio-economic model. 8
Only by re-evaluating and reintegrating the value and knowledge of making as a cultural resource can we establish the richer life that supports resiliency and sustainable development of (new) city models.■