Cultivating a Vibrant Community Through Fab Lab Houston

This piece is part of a series highlighting the work and stories of Makers for the National Week of Making, June 16–22, 2017.

Ground breaking for East Aldine Economic Opportunity Center (Photo courtesy of BakerRipley)

While visiting makerspaces, Fab Labs, tech centers, and hackerspaces over the years I learned that these type of spaces all have similar goals, but the process of how each one got started is unlike any other. The way every space is infused with its one-of-a-kind origin story is what gives a makerspace its own flavor. When I enter a new space for the first time, I am always curious about the details that led up to the programs, projects, and areas that surround me. It is for that reason I am thrilled to share about the beginning of Fab Lab Houston and what makes it unique.

Rendering of Fab Lab Houston (Rendering by Page)

I started my current position as the Makerspace Developer six months ago at BakerRipley, a pioneering community development organization that has transformed neighborhoods across the Greater Houston region for more than 110 years. While I understood the job description and was familiar with the plans for Fab Lab Houston, it wasn’t until I settled in that I truly understood the intricacies of the job. I learned about BakerRipley’s legacy of supporting families by helping them earn, learn, and belong. I also met members of East Aldine, a community on the outskirts of Houston, TX that will be home to Fab Lab Houston, the first of its kind in the region, and saw first-hand their resourcefulness and entrepreneurial spirit.

Ripley House 1940 (Photo courtesy of BakerRipley)

BakerRipley, formerly known as Neighborhood Centers, has been working with families in the Houston area for over one-hundred years. BakerRipley began as a part of the Settlement House movement in the early 1900′s. When Alice Graham Baker founded the agency in 1907, the main intention was to help every resident of Houston have an opportunity for an education, for health, for work, and to become an informed participant in democracy.

In 2014 when BakerRipley was invited to the community of East Aldine it wasn’t initially to establish a Fab Lab. The goal was to discover the strengths of East Aldine residents learn about their aspirations and partner with community leaders and residents to craft a collective vision and design a plan to bring it to fruition.

East Aldine visioning session (Photo courtesy of BakerRipley)

Through a series of 140 in-depth interviews and several focus groups, many residents talked about the need for resources that “open(s) their eyes to more than just their little box,” provide “more leadership, guidance, more mentors,” and teach them “how to make the right decisions and think for themselves.” In addition residents spoke specifically about informal learning activities that could prepare young people for the future. They talked about teaching youth “more science” and exposing them to “more technical fields [like] computer science, computer arts, marketing and IT — because that is where the future is headed.”

Rendering of areal view of East Aldine Economic Opportunities Center (Rendering by Page)

Now, because of the community’s strong desire to expose young people to the latest STEM tools and technology, and the generous support of Chevron and Fab Foundation, Fab Lab Houston will be located in the new 62 acre East Aldine Town Center as a part of BakerRipley’s East Aldine Economic Opportunities Center opening Summer 2018. Chevron and BakerRipley share a common vision — investing in Human Capital Energy and Human capital.

Fab Lab Houston Design Session #1 (Photo by Sarah Tucker)

In late April, BakerRipley together with the Fab Foundation hosted a Design Studio to introduce the East Aldine community to the Fab Lab. More than 40 community members, partners and educators gathered to learn and explore the educational, entrepreneurial and innovative possibilities of the Fab Lab as well as brainstorm a set of design principles to guide and sustain it.

Student sharing aspirations for Fab Lab Houston (Photo by Sarah Tucker)

A second Design Studio in May allowed community members to narrow their ideas down into eight principles while engaging in a hands-on activity. Future sessions are set for later this year to plan activities that will support the design principles, identify additional community stakeholders and develop a timeline to put activities into action.

Raul Macias (Photo by Kelsey Seeker)

Raul Macias, an East Aldine resident who is actively involved in the community, was at the Design Studios and he’s certain this will change the lives of many.

“Now that I’ve seen the technology that will be available, I think it’s going to open a whole new world for the people who are interested in building and creating stuff,” he said.

Maker workshop at Aldine ISD’s Makerspace Mania (Photo by Brent Richardson)

While Fab Lab Houston’s origin story is still being written we are excited to work with the community to begin planning projects, working with educators and supporting the growth of students through outreach efforts over the next year.

The Fab Lab will be available not only to East Aldine residents, but also to everyone in the region who has an interest in digital fabrication and making. Because of the Fab Foundation’s support and Chevron’s investment in the Houston region, we look forward to Fab Lab Houston becoming an asset for the community and the region for many years to come.