City As Living Laboratory For Sustainability In Urban Design: Final Report

January 1st, 2012 | EVALUATION

A NSF EArly-concept Grant for Exploratory Research (EAGER) was awarded to Principal Investigator John Fraser, PhD, AIA, in collaboration with co-Principal Investigators, Mary Miss and William Solecki, PhD, for City as Living Laboratory for Sustainability in Urban Design (CaLL). The CaLL project explored how public art installations can promote public discussion about sustainability. The project examined the emerging role of artists and visual thinkers as people with the skills to encourage conversation between scientists and the public. The grant supported an experimental installation incorporating scientific information organized as an art installation at 137th St., Montefiore Park, in upper Manhattan, New York from September - December 2011, and a series of public forums to discuss and consider how an the arts inform science learning. The project prototyped a Kit of Parts as a set of objects that drew attention to everyday street features such as manhole covers, streetlights, sewer drains and fire hydrants, and gave them short bits of information about the hidden parts of nature that support city life. Passersby were invited to think about the connection between life on city streets and the hidden things that make their neighborhood work. The installation aimed to inspire the public to think about how their individual actions might help shape a sustainable future. Additional programs included: a workshop with urban design students who proposed new ideas for streets installations; an art-science event for the public during Urban Design Week when historians, artist and scientists met pedestrians and talked about the city; a panel discussion about citizen engagement; a professional forum to debate the research findings and how these results might change how people think about science learning; and a public forum presentation by leading thinkers in the arts to talk about the role of artists in drawing attention to environmental science. Lastly, the project produced two research journal articles that summarize the research findings. One paper considered the theory of how art and science education overlap, while the other presented the results that showed science reasoning is connected to how people interpret art. The results showed that the average New Yorker is open and interested in thinking scientifically when offered the opportunity to see facts about how nature is part of the city. It showed that artists have the skills to provoke positive conversations between scientists and the public in ways that allow people to negotiate what they find important in their lives. Public surveys showed that science facts curated by the artist could increase scientific discussion and dialogue in the community. The research also showed that showing science information in public spaces for three months can increase the amount people in the area know and think about the topic. The research showed that many people separate science thinking from art thinking. People who consider something art were likely to think in scientific ways about how to use the information to make personal choices. Those who think something is a science exhibit were more likely to try to figure out what the person who made the exhibit wanted other people to do. These answers led the researchers to suggest that there is an opportunity to bring art and science exhibits together in a way that will increase public conversation about what science means, and how we decide to make sustainable changes in cities based on good science information. These results seemed to say that science information presented in public spaces can help people who might not visit science themed museums to advance their science learning. The results suggest that people are interested in their own science as part of daily life, enjoy discovering new and useful information when they can explore something on their own terms and over a few weeks in public spaces, but might not choose to visit museums for those reasons.



Team Members

John Fraser, Co-Principal Investigator, New Knowledge Organization Ltd.
City University of New York, Contributor
Mary Miss, Evaluator, New Knowledge Organization Ltd.


Funding Source: NSF
Funding Program: AISL
Award Number: 1240641
Funding Amount: 60127

Related URLs
City as Living Laboratory for Sustainability in Urban Design


Access and Inclusion: Urban
Audience: Adults | Evaluators | General Public | Museum | ISE Professionals | Scientists
Discipline: Art | music | theater | Ecology | forestry | agriculture | Education and learning science | History | policy | law | Nature of science | Social science and psychology
Resource Type: Evaluation Reports | Summative
Environment Type: Exhibitions | Parks | Outdoor | Garden Exhibits | Professional Development | Conferences | Networks | Professional Development and Workshops | Public Events and Festivals | Public Programs