In Providence, Rhode Island, Janice McDonnell started one of the unlikeliest of revolutions. On seven empty lots in the inner city, she set up a new kind of playground—places where kids could build anything they want, break anything they want. Her larger goals? To fight the disappearance of play brought on by the relentless testing that’s become the norm in today’s schools—and to spread playful opportunities beyond rich white families.
As the economy’s reliance on innovation grows, the commercial offerings of toys for girls remains, well, somewhat less than innovative. Fortunately, a few women who are educators, engineers, and entrepreneurs are starting to figure this problem out by reviving the time-honored principles of tinkering. But how could we have gotten so off track? One writer goes searching for the answer.
Now that manufacturing wages in Asia are starting to rise, some U.S. industries have started to bring their businesses back to our own shores. Many others remain skittish, however—of our tighter regulatory environment, of the high cost of U.S. labor, and of the paucity of workers who know how to make things anymore. Can that spiral be reversed?
In the 1960s, Shinola, the venerable American shoe-polish company that became famous for a World War II soldier’s crack, “You don’t know shit from Shinola,” shut its doors. The move was a fitting bookend to the golden age of American manufacturing. Then, in 2011, a Texas developer revived the name as a maker of watches, leather goods, and retro bicycles in the broken heart of downtown Detroit, where, the company says, “American is Made.” Is making things in America again that easy?
After being called out for deceptive advertising by a watchdog organization, and then the FTC, Walmart tries to fix the problem by creating a web of confusion. The watchdog’s legal counsel believes the company’s website still violates a variety of FTC rules. But no one seems to be doing much about it.
When an American made, battery powered, quartz watch costs $1,500, and its counterparts from other countries, including Switzerland, range from $50 to more than $50,000, what’s the difference between them all? A dive into the eternal appeal of wrist sculptures.
In the 1500s, a Spanish bishop turned a collection of pueblos around the Mexican town of Patzcuaro into a center for craftsmanship. The people here are still making and marketing their wares in much the same way they did hundreds of years ago. Now they have to overcome tourists’ fears about drug traffickers, real or not.
This time, a revolution that had nothing to do with ideology, and it bore a bounty of fruit. Could the U.S. learn sustainability from its new friend?