Springfield’s History and Future are Here and Now for UMass Amherst–Arizona State ‘Futurescape City Tour’

AMHERST, Mass. – Imagine touring Springfield with one eye focused back at stunning innovations of the last two centuries, and the other eye trained ahead on technologies that will emerge in the next two centuries, and being able to do so without tripping over the here and now that is the city. That’s what a small group of area residents, including U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, will be doing on Saturday, Nov. 16, as part of national public engagement project called Futurescape City Tours.

The University of Massachusetts Amherst is hosting the event in partnership with the Loka Institute and Center for Nanotechnology and Society at Arizona State University. The group is scheduled to visit the Lyman & Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History, the Roger L. Putnam Vocational Technical Academy, and the Geek Group of Western Massachusetts at Indian Orchard Mills. 

In addition to Neal, the group and project collaborators will include Daniel LeDucof Western Massachusetts Electric Company; Carolyn Hart Lucien of the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority; Ken Carter of the UMass Amherst polymer science and engineering department and Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC); Nikhil Malvankar, a postdoctoral research associate at UMass Amherst, and Cathy Russell, visual program manager at MRSEC. 

Funded by the National Science Foundation under the National Nanotechnology Initiative, Futurescape City Tours are interactive, community engagement projects where participants explore how new technologies could change their city and their lives in the near future.

Springfield is one of six cities – including St.Paul, Minn., Portland, Ore., Phoenix, Ariz., Washington, D.C., and Edmonton, Alberta – hosting these engagements in which local residents, stakeholders, scientists and engineers will tour their neighborhoods and talk about how new technologies like nanotechnology may change buildings, transportation, food, healthcare, energy use and more. 

Participants take part in a three-part exercise, which includes a guided walking tour of Springfield, documenting their experiences with photography, and collaborating in small groups to develop future scenarios. The group will meet in a closed session on Monday, Nov. 18, to discuss the experience. A public reception and exhibit will be held Dec. 12, 5:30-8:30 p.m., at the UMass Design Center at Court Square to feature photography and participant reflections on emerging technologies in the city.

At UMass Amherst, the project involves students in a new graduate-level research methods course: “Participatory Digital and Visual Research in Community-Based Learning”taught by Krista Harper, of the UMass Amherst anthropology department and Center for Public Policy and Administration (CPPA). The project theme for fall 2013 is “Public Participation in Nanotechnology Policy.”

Working with Harper will be Gretchen Gano of the Science, Technology and Society Initiative at CPPA. According to Gano, Futurescape City Tours will provide students in applied anthropology and public policy with a hands-on opportunity to study how to collaborate with community partners effectively, how to use theory and method in applied research, how to carry out an effective participatory research project, and how to communicate research results to a wide range of audiences. Associated research examines experience design, mediation, and tacit knowledge as critical but often-overlooked components of practices of public engagement and community-engaged research, she said.

“These are critical research skills and capabilities for social scientists and for public policy professionals,” said Gano.