THE ORIGIN & EVOLUTION OF THE FUTURESCAPE CITY TOURS
One of the primary goals of the NSF-funded Center for Nanotechnology in Society at Arizona State University (CNS-ASU) is to design and test new ways to embed societal values into research and innovation. 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 general public has the opportunity to understand, respond to, and influence future directions related to innovation is therefore imperative for upholding a truly democratic society. To that end, through an NSF grant, CNS-ASU developed FCTs to engage citizens about technology’s impact on their cities. They began with a single-city pilot and, following its success, expanded the program to include five additional cities. Through multiple iterations, researchers were able to figure out what works best with FCTs and why.
The pilot FCT, held in Phoenix in 2012, brought citizens together to consider the implications of nanotechnology for their city. They toured locations correlated to their concerns about solar energy, biofuels, transportation, and water use. They took pictures throughout the tour to document their impressions and met with scientists, engineers, researchers, and professionals to discuss the role of technology and its effect on the city. Participant photos were later used as the basis for guided deliberation.
In 2013 the FCT expanded its scale to include tours in St. Paul, Portland, Springfield (MA), Edmonton (Canada), and Washington, DC, in addition to Phoenix. In each city, citizens, stakeholders, and experts considered the relationship between emerging technologies, urban environments, and sustainability. Citizens, ranging from those generally interested in their city’s future to engineers working with nanotechnology, were able to interrogate the changing face of their city.