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Hackerspaces: The Community Centers of the Future

Tucked away in an industrial area in Ferndale sits a building that looks like any other small manufacturing plant. Once you walk through the doors of i3Detroit however, you’ll find a new kind of workshop filled with cupcake cars, Twinkie cannons and fire statues.

This giant named Red Green stands 16 feet tall. Click the photo to see what he can do!

The oldest and largest hackerspace in Michigan, i3Detroit is a place where makers, tinkerers, DIYers, coders and crafters meet to learn, collaborate, and make. What do they make? That’s only limited by imagination. After all, the three i’s in the name stand for imagine, innovate, and inspire.

Don’t be afraid of the word hacker, they aren’t trying to get your bank details and passwords.

If you made it out to Maker Faire at The Henry Ford last summer, you get the idea. In fact, the i3Detroit community played a huge part in bringing the largest DIY festival to the area. Maker Faire is already set to return in 2011 & 2012.

i3Detroit is a collaborative environment for people to explore the balance between technology, art and culture. We feel the best way to create this environment is to bring like mind people together that share a common passion for technology, art and culture. ~ From their website

The hackerspace movement in the United States began in 2007 and is hitting its prime in metro Detroit with 3 distinct and different communities. Nick Britsky, founding member of i3Detroit explains that each hackerspace has a slightly different personality and that’s what makes them unique.

All Hands Active based in Ann Arbor is fueled by college students. Britsky says, “it’s a very high energy crowd. They are often engaging with young students hacking and remaking electronics to make cool music. Or, inventing new whimsical contraptions to share with Make Magazine.”

The third hackerspace in our area, Omnicorp Detroit in Eastern Market “is in the heart of Detroit and has a passion for its local culture and people. They are very industrial and do a lot of unique classes,” Britsky explains.

Equipped with woodworking and metal working tools, electronics, a chemistry lab, podcasting studio and crafting area, you could call i3Detroit the epitome of a man cave. Except hackerspaces and i3Detroit aren’t just for men, plenty of women create and tinker in the space.

This awesome cow was made using their laser cutter.

Britsky talks about hackerspaces being the community centers of the future. He explains, “I would love to see a community center that was more integrated with the community that utilizes home improvement tools, up-to-date computer labs & classes that are relevant to current living. All of this is very expensive.” He proposes partnering with local businesses. “Think of Home Depot coming in to teach proper technique on the table saw or Production Tool Supply showing people how interesting and rewarding working with metal is or even Best Buy teaching people simple computer techniques. There is a pent-up demand for this in the community.”

Besides working on individual projects, i3Detroit offers classes and partners with local community groups. They’ve hosted Clawson High School's FIRST robotics team for the past two years. “This is a great partnership with the high school where we provide the tools, staff & facilities to give the students a first class and very cool experience in hands-on science and math,” Britsky said.

The Clawson FIRST robotics team gets to work.

Currently, i3Detroit is gutting and revamping an old trailer into a podcast studio. Once finished, the production trailer will feature a 4-person microphone set up, ham radio gear, audio/video editing equipment and all the “creature comforts of home.” With additional donations they’re also looking at adding cameras, Wi-Fi, and air conditioning.

The future production trailer.

So can these hackerspaces really be the new community centers? Britsky says that, “local community centers are struggling and need to be updated for more modern times.  Look at Troy's community center; it will be closed in July along with a number of other municipal buildings. On the flip side, Ferndale has a unique community center but awareness and pricing of their facilities is what I believe holds them back.”

The Detroit area hackerspaces are already the community centers of the future, albeit for a very small community. As the word spreads, these spaces are sure to grow, expand, and become a strong resource for the community.

The next big event on tap for i3Detroit is Penguicon, a sci-fi and writing convention in Troy. They’ll be teaching classes on electronics, sewing, and more. Two area groups, Tweetea and Girls in Tech Detroit, will be invading the i3Detroit space tomorrow night for an informal chat on jobs in tech. 

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