Skip to content

Museums Shaping Cities

Category: Center for the Future Of Museums Blog

One crucial way museums can change the world is to help people in their communities improve their own environments. I want to spotlight a few notable examples that have crossed my radar recently.

The National Building Museum’s Intelligent Cities, developed in partnership with TIME and IBM and funded by The Rockefeller Foundation, explores “the intersection of information technology and urban design to understand where we are, where we want to be, and how to get there.” It prods people to think about the environment they live in, on a scale encompassing homes, cities, regions and the nation, posing questions such as “what do you like best about your neighborhood,” and “what makes a city a city?” Their current poll is on the issues of density, and you can answer it here. NBM hosted the Intelligent Cities Forum this past June and I am eagerly awaiting the release of the companion book this fall. The NBM’s award-winning CityVision program, now in its seventeenth year, uses design as a framework to teach District of Columbia public school students how to become active participants in shaping their communities. Operated in partnership with the D.C. Public Schools and Public Charter Schools, CityVision helps students identify needs and propose solutions designed to help local neighborhoods. Projects have resulted in design proposals for redevelopment of areas scarred by vacant homes and lots; rehabilitating an abandoned building as a community center; and an underwater library for the Anacostia River. (I particularly want to see that one come to fruition. Scuba librarians? That would rock.)

True to its operating style, the Guggenheim is going global with the process of crowdsourced civic input. The BMW Guggenheim Lab recently launched a mobile, pop-up site that will travel the world addressing issues of contemporary urban life through programs and public discourse. Its goal is to explore new ideas, experiment, and ultimately create forward-thinking solutions for city life. The current version offers the Urbanology Game, (in which visitors role play scenarios for city transformation), and free events such as lectures, walking tours and facilitated discussions. You can visit the Lab in NYC, on Houston Street, until Oct. 16, when it pulls up stakes and moves on to Berlin and then Mumbai. (Regular readers of this blog know I’m a fan of the mobile museums, and the Urban Curation Lab is the uber-pop up exhibit. Check out this video of the lab being assembled.

Skip over related stories to continue reading article

You can find more videos of the lab here.

Lest these examples imply that issues of city design can only be tackled on a international scale with huge projects, check out the Museum of Vancouver. MOV exemplifies museums of average resources helping their local communities with civic issues. The MOVments blog “explores the living history of Vancouver, examining contemporary concerns in relation to the past.” Museum staff and guest bloggers follow, share and comment on issues and news related to local civic life: architecture, transportation, homelessness, physical infrastructure, public art and the emotional relationship between Vancouverites and their home. MOV is also partnering with the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC) to launch a Built City @MOV lecture series, starting with a look at the Living Building Challenge. (Photosynthesis—nature’s own renewable energy source!)

I would love to beef up my portfolio of examples of museums helping tackle civic issues and city planning. If you know of projects fitting the bill, please use the comments section below to share!

AAM Member-Only Content

AAM Members get exclusive access to premium digital content including:

  • Featured articles from Museum magazine
  • Access to more than 1,500 resource listings from the Resource Center
  • Tools, reports, and templates for equipping your work in museums
Log In

We're Sorry

Your current membership level does not allow you to access this content.

Upgrade Your Membership


1 Comment

  1. If you are interested in a small museum example, the San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts has hosted five community-driven exhibitions over the past 20 years called "Visions and Choices" wherein various community groups and individuals have contributed to a series of public exhibitions of their vision for the future of San Angelo and the surrounding area. Several of the ideas presented at these exhibitions have been discussed, considered and often implemented into city planning and development. You can find more information about these exhibits on their website:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to Field Notes!

Packed with stories and insights for museum people, Field Notes is delivered to your inbox every Monday. Once you've completed the form below, confirm your subscription in the email sent to you.

If you are a current AAM member, please sign-up using the email address associated with your account.

Are you a museum professional?

Are you a current AAM member?

Success! Now check your email to confirm your subscription, and please add to your safe sender list.