Envisioning and Deliberating Differently
Futurescape City Tours in Washington DC
The choices communities make today often have irreversible consequences on the futures they shape. Their values—such as equity, sustainability, freedom, happiness, competition—and how they are prioritized or ignored shape those choices and outcomes. Forums such as public hearings, city council and school board meetings, and focus groups have traditionally provided communities with opportunities to participate in their city’s planning and development. Often, however, it’s only the most informed, opinionated, or articulate whose participation is valued. Many voices are drowned out among the din of vocal–and often polarized–factions, and true dialogue and empathy among stakeholders remains rare. While focus groups and hearings, and more recently citizen juries and consensus conferences, attempt to inform and engage a wider range of knowledges and experiences, these forms of public engagement still cater to the most vocal and articulate among us. Such approaches rely on traditional learning spaces and relegate citizens to passive learners rather than equal contributors.
While everyone has a stake in the future of our urban environments, only a select few are empowered with the knowledge, skills, and opportunities to make a difference in how a city evolves. This imbalance can result in entities with more authority, knowledge, money, or other power exerting greater influence on the direction a city or community takes, even though that direction may not reflect the interests and concerns of much of the city’s general population.
As technology becomes more complex and pervasive in society, its potential impact on urban environments and citizens’ day-to-day lives grows. Ensuring that the publics have the opportunity to understand, respond to, and influence future directions related to innovation is therefore imperative for upholding a truly democratic society.
In an effort to create a more inclusive, sustainable, and integrated public engagement and deliberation experiences, researchers at the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at Arizona State University (CNS-ASU) developed the Futurescape City Tours (FCTs). Begun as a pilot in Phoenix in 2012, in 2013 the FCT expanded its scale to include engagements in St. Paul, Portland, Springfield (MA), Edmonton (Canada), and Washington, DC, in addition to Phoenix. In each city, participants, stakeholders, and experts considered the relationship among emerging technologies, urban environments, and sustainability. Combining a walking tour, photography, guided deliberation, behind-the-scenes expeditions, and informal conversations with city planners, policymakers, researchers, and civic leaders, FCTs attempt to embed participants’ values into local systems of innovation.
Please join us for a photographic and experiential journey through the citizen’s eye and a conversation among participants, designers, facilitators, and scientists of the Futurescape City Tour project in Washington DC.
Nineteen people from diverse ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds participated in FCT DC. The first and third deliberations were held at CSPO’s Washington DC building. The tour began at the National Building Museum, an affluent area located near the Capitol Building, and ended in Anacostia, a low-income neighborhood in Southeast DC. Along the way we visited the following sites:
DC City Center (The construction site of an environmentally sustainable combined housing/retail complex)
U.S. Department of Transportation/Canal Park
Navy Yard/Anacostia Waterfront (a site of urban renewal)
11th Street Bridge (site of park project that will traverse the Anacostia River)
Anacostia Public Library (LEED Certified Building)
The tour was designed around participant’s interests in environmentally sustainable technologies, transportation infrastructure, transparency in policy decisions concerning emerging technologies, and equitable distribution of emerging technologies. In particular, we structured the site sequences to tacitly call attention to disparities in the distribution of new technologies. Our speakers were asked to speak about how emerging technologies in their area of expertise would affect our participants in the near future. In turn, our participants were encouraged to challenge these future visions in relation to their own experiences. The photos we see here tonight highlight the complex and ambivalent ways that DC residents see the future of their city. In general, the participants were hopeful, but cautious about the promise of emerging technologies to positively influence the future.