Small urban manufacturers (‘makers’) are scattered throughout the inner suburbs of Australian cities. Makers differ in many ways from traditional industry in the small-scale of their operations, their connection to their materials, tools and methods, their commitment to their neighbourhood and community, and their philosophical approach to their work. The subject of makers brings into question the very meaning of ‘highest-and-best-use’ in asking whether they should be allowed to stay or make way for more economically viable residential and commercial developments in the contested and congested inner city. In Australia’s expensive urban housing markets, local governments need to make a choice whether to preserve the industrial spaces that makers need to thrive. They are interested in doing so, but they lack a robust evidence base to argue against rezoning and loss of industrial buildings. We simply do not know enough about Australian makers yet to inform rational plan-making. This paper frames the problem of making in Australia and provides a framework for both research and public policy. Makers present a very complex problem for urban planners and economic development planners to resolve in practice – both in how to define what makers are and how their claims rank against those of the many other stakeholders in planning land use in the inner city. Whilst this paper establishes the background to the Urban Manufacturing Project – a study based in Melbourne – it frames the problem of small urban manufacturing as affecting all Australian cities and a subject worthy of a broader research program.