New Ways To Live: Future Pittsburgh


Course number 51–487 / 51–887 Imaginaries Lab: New Ways to Live

Focusing on new ways to live and experience the world, now and in the future, we’ll do practical investigative research through design projects using experimental methods in the wild. Learn and develop a variety of tools for conducting innovative forms of research through design, focused on exploring how people think, understand and imagine complex social and technological concepts, and envision futures. By the end of the course students will have worked on an interdisciplinary research project, including with an external partner, drawing on a number of disciplinary domains, and have experience with different kinds of design research and practice, from speculative and critical design to participatory design, as well as developing the skills and experience necessary to innovate with, and deploy, those methods. This course is a complement to Imaginaries Lab: New Ways To Think, but is independent of it, and either or both courses can be taken without overlap (we will be doing different projects, with a different focus).

This project centers on a 7-week ‘research studio’ class (second half of the semester) in which approximately 15 students will create a form of participatory speculative design about the future of work and everyday life in Pittsburgh.

We are going to be exploring questions around how the public imagines (or can imagine) different kinds of futures for the city, the systems of the city, and their own lives, with a time-frame of about 10–15 years from now (e.g. 2030). We’re specifically focusing on the kinds of issues in this recent MIT Tech Review article about the role of automation and how that resolves in relation to other factors in people’s lives, and working with input from CMU’s Metro21 (and other expert organizations) to help situate the projects in a way which is informed by expert opinion.

Our intended outcome (from a process of public engagement) is a publication (and potentially an exhibition) with speculative (but well-informed) scenes from possible future everyday life and work in Pittsburgh, shot through a more realistic lens of the kinds of small businesses and cultural phenomena that are present here rather than the entirely shiny visions of automation that are sometimes proposed. This could be relevant to many rust-belt cities in the US, and former industrial towns elsewhere too.

There are four specific topics currently identified as possible focuses (e.g. four groups, each focused on one topic):

  • The future of education
  • The future of community
  • The future of transportation
  • The future of small business

These may evolve, but each potentially offers a different set of interesting perspectives. The goal is to carry out a form of participatory futuring which captures what people’s everyday experience might be in each area, rather than a top-down approach. So the visions will necessarily be incomplete: we are looking for informed glimpses, co-constructed with members of the public.