The Museum of the City of New York explores “New York at Its Core“ through a multi-faceted permanent exhibition on the US mega metropolis. At its heart, the show’s Future City Lab allows visitors to try their own hand at shaping the fate of their melting pot city.

The first subway ticket ever sold, dating back to 1904, and the original shirt with the now-iconic “I ♥ NY“ print – these are just two of the must-see artifacts exhibited at the Museum of the City of New York. Meanwhile, the museum’s permanent exhibition and popular fixture, New York at Its Core, throws a scintillating spotlight on urban life in the Big Apple.

Visitors of the interactive exhibition in the Museum of the City of New York.
Future City Lab visitors can explore data and influence the virtual city.

Under the motto “money, density, diversity, and creativity”, the show highlights and explores the four cornerstones that have shaped New York and driven developments in recent decades. Beyond historic exhibits, displays, and installations, the curators placed special emphasis on interactivity – inviting visitors to start experimenting with their own city.

Visitors add their own ideas

At the center of it all: the Future City Lab. Here, visitors are confronted with the future of their city. “We wanted to show how people can actively change their future environment,” says Hilary Ballon. It’s often a challenge for museums to interpret the past, adds the Future City Lab curator. “New York’s history is rewritten every day, posing huge challenges. We want to emphasize these for our visitors and invite them to get involved.“

Visitors looking at the presentation boards at the exhibition
Urban data visualization in the Museum of the City of New York.

Undisputed highlight of the Future City Lab is a giant display showing real-time data on the metropolis. Digital touchscreens allow visitors to drag & drop new buildings, parks, or streets on the map. “We place visitors in the role of designers and city planners,” states Ballon. “When you design a city, the individual actions and engagement of each and every one of us count – so it’s something we all need to get involved in as residents.”

New Yorkers take charge of their own future

Beyond modern tech, the Future City Lab also offers traditional models and modes of interaction: For example, visitors can use colored notes to jot down their wishes and inspirations for the city. “These are real exercises that influence urban development. Change starts with the right questions,” explains Ballon. The exhibition also incorporates concepts from European and Asian cities considering how to deal with future scenarios like self-driving cars or “floating cities.”

Woman looks at interactive video screens in the exhibition.
Visitors explore stories from inhabitants of all five boroughs of New York City.

With its blend of options, the show addresses our everyday, digitally-filtered perception in a unique and unusual way, encouraging visitors to notice their own impact and significance within the fabric of the city. “The New Yorkers themselves are the real urban experts when it comes to determining our city’s future,” adds Ballon. “They’re the ones who live here and make decisions everyday; decisions that are already shaping tomorrow’s world.” As a curator, what she wants most of all is to pose the right questions, start a discussion, and inspire action, Ballon emphasizes.

visitors of the New York at its core exhibition
Visitors of the exhibition can become aware of their own significance as part of their city.

The right questions for the future

Against this background, the Future City Lab addresses a broad spectrum of topics: How can we create the right economic framework for the next generation? How should we meet the growing demand for housing? How can we integrate nature into the city? How will people navigate New York City in the future?

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The varied and multi-faceted collection leaves visitors with a clear message: When it comes to co-designing our urban future, the time is now.

Museum of the City of New York
1220 5th Ave & 103rd St,
New York, NY 10029, USA