Does the future of NYC include micro homes like KASITA? You get to choose at the Museum of the City of New York

KASITA is featured in an innovative new Future City Lab at the Museum of the City New York, where visitors double as urban planners.


What pops into your head when someone says the word “museum”? If your answer is “galleries filled with old stuff,” you’d hardly be alone. But artifacts aren’t the only way to experience history, as the new permanent exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York so deftly proves.

Across a series of three galleries, “New York at Its Core” explores the evolution of New York, from 17th century Dutch seaport to cosmopolitan crown jewel—and beyond. In a dramatic break with tradition, the exhibit dedicates one-third of its 8,000 square feet to the Future City Lab, an interactive gallery where visitors try on the role of urban planner by creating future models of the city (complete with disgruntled locals in virtual form).

“There’s no other city museum in the world that deals with the future,” museum director Whitney Donhauser recently told the New York Times.

 

Filip Wolak Courtesy MCNY
Filip Wolak Courtesy MCNY

But to shape the future, museum-goers must understand the past. In the first two galleries—Port City (1609-1898) and World City (1898-2012)—the 400-year-old history of the five boroughs are examined through the lenses of money, diversity, density and creativity.

Unique artifacts do help tell the story (a Lenape Indian war club, the Tiffany shovel that broke ground for the subway system, the keys to Louis Armstrong’s home in Queens, and the original drawing for the “I ♥ NY” logo), but history also unfolds across a series of interactive video kiosks that highlight the lives of 75 notable New Yorkers, including Emma Goldman, David Rockefeller, and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Then there’s the historic smellscape, an olfactory guide so detailed you can almost catch 150-year-old fumes wafting up from the Meatpacking District.

 

Filip Wolak Courtesy MCNY
Filip Wolak Courtesy MCNY

In the Future City Lab—where KASITA is featured—visitors interact with a Sim City-like urban planning game set on a sloping 13-foot screen. On the surface, the game focuses on designing housing, streetscapes, and parks, but the real lesson lies in understanding how difficult it is to find a solution that perfectly satisfies budget restrictions, population growth, environmental concerns, and the competing needs of diverse stakeholders (incensed New Yorkers chime in with “there goes the city” if new developments stray too high). Managing a city ain’t for the faint of heart.

Still, the act of crafting a virtual cityscape is a great exercise—especially if visitors leave the exhibit feeling more inspired to engage with the future of their real-life communities.

 

Filip Wolak Courtesy MCNY
Filip Wolak Courtesy MCNY

Want to see KASITA in the Future City Lab? Can’t wait to get your hands on that monster urban planning screen? Visit mcny.org for more information.

Museum of the City of New York, 1220 Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street, Manhattan, New York