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Future City Lab-New York at Its Core-Museum of the City of NY-Filip Wolak-MCNY-NYCInside the Future City Lab at Museum of the City of New York’s New York at Its Core exhibition. Photo by Filip Wolak courtesy MCNY

The culmination of the Museum of the City of New York’s landmark permanent exhibition, New York at Its Core is the Future City LabWhile two whole galleries on the first floor of the museum are dedicated to the 400 years of history of New York City, the central room analyzes and questions the city’s future. Most importantly, the Future City Lab directly involves the public in imagining what the city could (or should) look like in a great environment for both children and adults. “New York has faced challenges throughout its history,” the Museum proclaims at the entrance of the lab, “and New Yorkers’ creative responses to those challenges have propelled the city forward…The future may be unknowable, but it is not beyond our influence.”

The Future City Lab, which is curated by Hilary Ballon, seeks to address five critical questions:

Making a Living: What can we do to provide economic opportunities for the next generation?
Living Together: How can we foster a more inclusive city?
Housing a Growing Population: How can we meet the housing needs of New Yorkers?
Living with Nature: How can New York City enhance its natural environment and cope with climate change?
Getting Around: How can we make it easier for people to get into and around the city?

New York At Its Core-Exhibition-Museum of the City of New York-400 Years of NYC History_16 (1)

The star feature in the Future City Lab is a curved digital display that is the “largest collection of digital data of the city anywhere,” says Museum curator Sarah Henry. There’s a separate room where visitors can dig deeper into these data sets if they so desire. It’s the intention of the museum to keep that data up to date, so the lab is a true living, breathing tool for the future. Like the other digital displays in New York at Its Core, the ones in the Future City Lab are designed and programmed by the studio Local Projects.

Future City Lab-New York at Its Core-Museum of the City of NY-Filip Wolak-MCNY-NYC-009Photo by Filip Wolak courtesy MCNY

Side tables enable visitors to look into specific subjects and many of these modules have built-in design programs so you can redesign streets, built your own housing complex, or design a park within actual New York City neighborhoods. The designs that visitors create can be saved and submitted, and are then displayed on a large screen where thanks to a video and sensor, a pixelated version of yourself can actually interact with your own design. But be careful – the digital people inside the designs might complain (or applaud) your design efforts! And like Sim City, all of your initiatives will have a quantifiable impact, whether on budget, traffic, and other measures tallied by the program.

New York At Its Core-Exhibition-Museum of the City of New York-400 Years of NYC History_12

New York At Its Core-Exhibition-Museum of the City of New York-400 Years of NYC History_14

The interactive displays also include photographs by Joseph Michael Lopez of different neighborhoods in New York City, along with short films that show the diversity of New Yorkers describing their hopes and concerns for the city’s future. Statistical data about each neighborhood, like population density, is also available. Going beyond New York City, the displays also show urban design best practices from other cities around the world.

Future City Lab-New York at Its Core-Museum of the City of NY-Filip Wolak-MCNY-NYC-004Photo by Filip Wolak courtesy MCNY

One of the interesting data points that Henry points out from the Future City Lab is that “more Americans leave [New York] City every year than come. Even though 120,000 new arrivals are already American, they are also leaving faster. There are relatively fewer international immigrants, but they stay a lot longer. The city is becoming more and more immigrant.” She sees this as a positive thing, allowing creative forces to come in and out of the city.

Future City Lab-New York at Its Core-Museum of the City of NY-Filip Wolak-MCNY-NYC-007Photo by Filip Wolak courtesy MCNY

Future City Lab-New York at Its Core-Museum of the City of NY-Filip Wolak-MCNY-NYC-005Photo by Filip Wolak courtesy MCNY

Finally, in a “What If…” section, visitors can freely write their visions and concerns for the future, in response to the views of knowledgable New Yorkers on a variety of questions.

Future City Lab-New York at Its Core-Museum of the City of NY-Filip Wolak-MCNY-NYC-001Photo by Filip Wolak courtesy MCNY

For the Museum of the City of New York to dedicate its entire first floor to New York at Its Core is a bold statement – for a museum to focus an entire gallery on the city’s future is both prescient and daring. If you have not been to see New York at Its Core yet, it’s a must for all New Yorkers and visitors. Spend time amidst unique artifacts, and end in the Future City Lab before stepping back onto the city streets.

Next, check out 10 Must See Artifacts from New York at Its Core.

 Hilary Ballon, museum of the city of new york, New York At Its Core

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