A makerspace is one of the million bright ideas for our cities that make a lot of sense but are hard to execute. They act as a community workshop where members can access shared resources like tools and technology, as well as share skills through events and tutorials. If you add the number of people who only occasionally need to use a sewing machine, screenprinting unit, table saw, or 3D printer... plus the number of people that love to make things with friends, the rationale behind a makerspace is self-evident.

I've been lucky to witness the emergence of the Fredericton Makerspace. I say lucky, because if we did not have some relentlessly dedicated volunteers pouring themselves into the project, it would still be one of those great ideas that never happened. But this week, I stood in the Makerspace woodshop and watched people build together.

Two of five people using the woodshop on a Thursday afternoon.

Two of five people using the woodshop on a Thursday afternoon.

And then I walked to the neighbouring tech room, where a handful of others dropped in to hang out and a couple of my colleagues were using the 3D printer to create jewellery models.

This has been a long time coming and an incremental journey. The rumour of a potential Fredericton Makerspace was circulating before I even moved here. The dream was largely led by a good friend of mine and fellow apartment-dweller who really wanted access to a workshop. He teamed up with a similarly eager group of people that had been meeting weekly in a basement to make stuff. Over a period of months, they found a home for the Makerspace in an old squash court at a community centre downtown. The first projects in the space were building sound panels to absorb the echo, and tables to hold the donated tools and equipment that flowed in. Then they began to host workshops and found that some skills and resources were in surprisingly high demand. The space evolved slowly to reflect the desires of the membership. Eventually, it expanded into another squash court so the woodshop could have its own space away from delicate electronics. There are two more squash courts that the Makerspace could spill into if the demand arises.

In retrospect, the incremental growth of the Makerspace from rumour to reality seems smooth and natural. Seeing it live from the sidelines gives me an appreciation for how difficult this whole incremental growth thing really is though. The Makerspace has a clear goal to be financially sustainable, but getting it up and running was entirely dependent on an investment of time, services, and often money from a handful of committed people. Like so many things we love about great places, it was a labour of love and generosity, and it's still not out of the woods. More financial and community support would lay the groundwork to ensure that the Makerspace will be here to stay. It's like a quaint mainstreet; no matter how much we love having mom-and-pop stores, they can only survive if we support them.

There were no shortcuts to building this community workshop, just as I don't know that there are any shortcuts to building a great street or active public space. This week has been a wonderful reminder of how much work, patience, and emotion goes into building things the hard way (incrementally), but also how amazing it is to pause and recognize how far they've come.


GRACEN JOHNSON works as an urban strategist and communications professional  in The Maritimes. Despite finishing her MPhil in Planning, Growth, and Regeneration in 2013, she has never stopped studying the city. Gracen thinks of her day-to-day as participatory action research, diving into the question of how Strong Citizenship can transform a city. She wears many hats exploring that herself, including as the creator and coordinator of an accelerator for small businesses that build community. She also freelances around the vision of "Projects for Places we Love" and has a video blog called Another Place for Me.

This year, Gracen is sharing field notes on her experiences with Strong Citizenship. In this regular column, you'll get snapshots of life as a friendly neighbour in a quintessential Little City that feels like a Big Town.