Manufacturing returns to the city: efficient and sustainable


Manufacturing returns to the city: efficient and sustainable

Large halls that spew out black smoke? No, manufacturing in the city now means employment opportunities, recycling and cohesion in your own neighbourhood. Nine researchers demonstrate this in their book Foundries of the Future: A Guide For 21st Century Cities of Making.

Birgit Hausleitner

The research is aimed at London, Brussels and Rotterdam, but urban planner/architect Birgit Hausleitner from TU Delft knows a fantastic example of best practice from her home country of Austria. ‘In the middle of Vienna, there is a factory that produces waffles and confectionery. Due to limited space, it is a vertical building with six stories. The location in a densely populated area means that the 400 employees do not need to travel outside the city: comfortable and sustainable. Also, little transport is needed to bring the waffles to the many small shops in the city. Furthermore, the factory provides heating for 600 Viennese households and therefore fits superbly within the current energy transition.’

Circular economy and economic resilience

The project Cities of Making is all about how manufacturing can be brought back into the city and which benefits this yields for employment opportunities, the circular economy and economic resilience. Researchers from the United Kingdom, Belgium and the Netherlands focus on knowledge development around new smart technologies, physical environments for manufacturing and what the government can do to realise the re-industrialisation of cities.

Local politicians are not always convinced. That’s a shame because bringing together knowledge from the city and production capacity gives rise to innovation
- Birgit Hausleitner

That re-industrialisation is only just starting, but if the researchers and also the EU get their way, it will take off considerably. ‘Local politicians are not always convinced. That’s a shame because bringing together knowledge from the city and production capacity gives rise to innovation. Take, for example, the students from TU Delft who in just one week managed to design a life-saving ventilator which can be produced entirely from Dutch components. That’s a fantastic solution during this corona crisis. Another great example of an innovative environment is the RDM wharf in Rotterdam.’

3D-printer in a residential area

However, there are barriers too. Hausleitner illustrates this with the example of a 3D printing company, one of the many young (and sometimes confidential) initiatives. ‘The New Raw uses a specific type of plastic waste as a raw material for the printer. Eventually, the company from Rotterdam found a location in the collective workplace De KROON’ (link only available in Dutch). Hausleitner: ‘The Netherlands has a strict zoning policy. You cannot simply manufacture something in a mixed use or office area. But this company is so clean that it would not pose a problem. It could even be located in a residential area. Only then you would need to take logistics into account: you don’t want lots of lorries in a residential area.’

Furthermore, Hausleitner emphasises that use needs to be made of locations where raw materials are readily available. ‘For example, there are three waste-processing installations in the Port of Amsterdam that could directly supply recycled material to a manufacturing company. Locating the company next to these would be ideal. That would also allow you to make smart combinations.’

Book Foundries of the Future

Noise nuisance is another factor that needs to be taken into account. ‘For example, companies that produce a lot of noise could be located along a railway track where there’s a lot of noise anyway. In the book, we propose an allocation of zones in the city so that companies can be established at suitable locations. Chief Government Advisor on the Built and Rural Environment, Daan Zandbelt, beautifully describes this allocation as bustle, quiet and buzz (link only available in Dutch).’

Giving back to the neighbourhood

According to the authors, government bodies would be wise to appoint advisers who would act as “curators” in bringing back manufacturing to the city in smart ways. Hausleitner: ‘They can examine what is possible and desirable down to the street level. Money does not have to be earned with every square metre. For example, on the Keileweg in Rotterdam, part of the street has been given back to the neighbourhood by locating the workplace Buurman there instead of yet another fast food outlet. At Buurman, people without work receive training and everybody who wants to can learn to make something from recycled materials.’

Now that the neighbourhood where the Keileweg is located is being completely redesigned, everything is changing again. Hausleitner: ‘A manufacturing company definitely needs certainty. Having to suddenly move again is a major setback. A textile company in London told us that their relocation took two months, as a result of which they lost two months of income despite having to continue to repay all of their loans. Also, such companies can lose part of the local network, for example specifically trained employees or companies they collaborate with.’

Text: Rianne Lindhout

More information

NWO participates in the Joint Programming Initiative Urban Europe to encourage international research collaboration in the area of making densely populated urban regions more sustainable. The Dutch contributions to the project awarded funding within this collaboration are part of the knowledge initiative Connecting Sustainable Cities (Dutch acronym VerDuS), in which NWO participates. One of these projects is Urban Manufacturing | Cities of Making, in which Belgian, British and Dutch researchers participate. In the Netherlands, TU Delft is involved in this project, including urban planner/architect Birgit Hausleitner who is one of the authors of the book Foundries of the Future: A Guide For 21st Century Cities of Making.