I came across an innovation space in San Francisco when the I attended a free circuit building class. The space, Noisebridge, instantly captured me and made me wonder why are there not more of these around the country?
This issue of having space to build and create is near and dear to me after growing up in a carpenters houses with a shop filled with tools. My brother and I build everything from desks to potato guns in the shop was a perfect playground for any downtime. At Tufts University there was an innovation space until I was a Junior when the shop was converted to a graduate biology lab in some concession with the new dean of engineering. I still don't know how a university can justify replacing an innovation space open to all with a lab only used by a few.
Regardless, these spaces where ideas can wonder and hands can build are amazing. You meet interesting people and you build useful things. Most recently a small group of us started working on standardizing DC electricity (see energypond.com for our progress). Noisebridge and HackerDojo define themselves more or less as infrastructure providers for DIY projects and education. They provide access to the necessary tools, materials and space required for creative urbanites to create and hack.
I have this gut feeling that these spaces are extremely valuable to the community but have had a difficult time articulating it. When I tried to pitch the idea of creating an inovation space in wyoming to family friends the questions that always came up were what are the returns on the investment? This was a difficult question to answer because, like most investments in infrastructure, the rewards are difficult to account and not always tangible.
I do know that they strengthen the community, foster innovative minds, and accelerate human progress with by creating new useful things. How one can quantify all of this remains a mystery to me.My only hope to convince the majority that these spaces are if people get over the brain block of thinking that everything must make market sense to be worth doing. This is such a short sighted way to look at things.