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Can 3D printing transform cities?

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3D printing is already leading to innovation in manufacturing and design. It's been used to build houses, create ultra-customized shoes, and even build human tissue-like materials. The rise of 3D printing will have an impact on a broad array of industries, but could it also transform the way our cities function?

That's Neal Peirce's vision. Writing for Citiwire, Peirce says that with 3D printing "cities may well once again be the world’s manufacturing workshops."

With 3D printing, physical goods can be produced on-demand using a digital design. All you need is a 3D printer (which are becoming more affordable), printing materials, and a design. With this technology, Peirce envisions self-sustaining cities in which the production and distribution of products is "de-globalized" and the supply chain becomes local.

This could spell big cutbacks in massive container ships and their ports, together with fuel-guzzling truck rigs crisscrossing continents. The United States’ heavy reliance on overseas manufacturing, especially from China, could be cut back dramatically. The carbon footprint of today’s manufacturing and transport could be reduced substantially. 3D involves dramatically reduced waste and use of toxic materials in manufacturing and can ease the demand for such nonrenewable resources as rare earth minerals.

But that doesn't mean cities will become isolated places, he says, because designs and solutions to local problems can still be created and used around the world.

Cities are already making it easier for individuals to have access to 3D printing, an early sign that 3D printing really could take manufacturing in cities to a new, localized level.

More Self-Sufficient Cities in a 3D Printing World [Citiwire]

Photo: Flickr/Rob Boudon

More on 3D printing from SmartPlanet:

— By on April 9, 2013, 2:44 AM PST

Tyler Falk

Contributing Editor

Tyler Falk is a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was with Smart Growth America and Grist. He holds a degree from Goshen College. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure