The cambrian moment in our innovation economy

According to Re-Imagine group chairman and serial tech entrepreneur Peter Hirshberg, we are at a decisive moment in our innovation economy.  Silicon Valley – or, at least, the “ethos of Silicon Valley” – is spreading all over America, Hirshberg insists. And Silicon Valley is reinventing what he calls “secondary” places like Youngstown, Ohio or Louisville, Kentucky to transform them into what he calls “maker cities.”

Hirshberg, who coauthored a book last year entitled Maker City with the CEO of the Maker Media Dale Dougherty and the former Sun and Apple executive Marcia Kadanoff, believes that we are what he calls a “Cambrian moment” in the evolution of cities in today’s digital economy. The shift, he says, is from the “smart city” characterized by connected devices to the “maker city” shaped by connected citizens empowered with disruptive technologies like Plethora  the so-called “factory at your fingertips”.

The city, he therefore says, has become the most potent instrument for social and economic change in America today. And so the really interesting “conversation”, Hirshberg argues, is now taking place at the local level in places like Louisville and Youngstown.

The trigger for the Maker Cities movement, Hirshberg says, came in June 2014 at President Obama’s first National Maker’s Faire – a week long event designed to celebrate local innovation all over America. At the Obama event in Washington DC, Hirshberg signed up 100 cities as founding members of the movement including Detroit and Pittsburgh.

Early this year, in association with US News & World Report, Maker Cities launched an initiative to rank Maker Cities according to their ability to generate jobs and urban regeneration. The value of Hirshberg’s Maker City movement is to avoid “the Valley versus the rest-of-America” zero-sum thinking suggesting that new innovation hubs like Detroit or Youngstown have to compete against Silicon Valley. In Hirshberg’s maker city world, everywhere can simultaneously be Silicon Valley. So we can all win.

Many thanks to the folks at the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce for their help in the production of this interview.