Future Cities: How might science museums/centers contribute to making cities more livable for more people?

“We now live in an age of cities. Cities are the engines of global innovation and the drivers of global change. A sustainable planet is not possible without sustainable cities, and this will require enormous innovation and creativity,” remarked Patrick Hamilton, the Science Museum of Minnesota’s director of global change initiatives, at the ASTC 2015 session “Future Cities: How might science museums/centers contribute to making cities more livable for more people?” As innovative, creative, and often urban spaces that explore the intersections of science and society, science centers have a “tremendous opportunity to imagine our role in making cities more livable for more people in future,” Hamilton said

The session, held Saturday, October 17, began with three “conversation starters”—case studies of how science museums are working with their cities on urban issues. After the presentations, attendees broke into small groups to discuss the issues further.

Jennifer Santer, vice president of content and programs at the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science, Miami, discussed her museum’s efforts to listen to its diverse community and understand its strengths and challenges as the museum prepares to move to a new location next year. The new site will include an Innovation Center, where the public will be invited to help imagine a more livable future for Miami. The museum is planning several programs to help lead the way in addressing critical community issues, including a competition that asks participants to innovate ways to restore coral reefs and detect carcinogens in the environment.

Next, Ian Brunswick, program manager for Science Gallery in Dublin, Ireland, discussed the idea of “pre-activism,” which he described as dealing with problems before they exist. In one project, artists and historians worked together to illustrate what climate change would mean for city life by imagining future festivals—for example, a one-day water festival in Ireland in a future where recreational water usage is banned during the rest of the year. Brunswick stressed the importance of empowering visitors, not just engaging them, and the role of science centers in making cities better by helping citizens realize the future they want.

Hamilton presented the third “conversation starter,” discussing the Science Museum of Minnesota’s work with its local government in St. Paul and nearby universities. For example, the museum partnered with climatologists to create heat maps of the local area and explore the public health and safety implications of climate change. He concluded the formal part of the session by discussing what successful cities will need to achieve in the future: being more nimble to address increasing changes, becoming more livable for people while reducing environmental impact, and refining the meaning of citizenship.