Students Developed the Street Cart of the Future, and Their Ideas Are Awesome

The future of urban food, as seen by a group of fifth-graders.

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Aug 15 2014, 9:00am

Image: Molly O’Brien

A class of 10-year-old (on average) students from Public School 147 in Bushwick, Brooklyn were challenged to imagine new mobile service stations that could change their neighborhood in the next 20 years.

They combined "futuring methods," which are used by think tanks and strategy groups, to put the ideas out and see what concepts come back. 

"We started out by asking them where they might be when they are 30 years old. And what their neighborhood is like today and what could happen, versus what changes they hope could happen," said Elliott P. Montgomery, who cofounded the project with Chris Woebken, a collaboration between design studio The Extrapolation Factory and NurtureArt, which brings art into public schools.

The design studio teaches people to think about the future of things, and since the spring, they've been working with the kids to develop ideas, mainly about what services NYC street vendors could provide in 2035.

"We tried to introduce them to a multiplicity of concepts and scrap a bunch and pick one," said Woebken. "That was new to them. It was really nice to get them into layering ideas."

"Weather Controller." Image: The Extrapolation Factory

They tackled four big concepts: climate, language, insects and robots. From there, future vending ideas started popping up. The final concepts were made into scale models, crafted from recycled art materials and a bulk of stuff from 99 cent stores. The prototypes are on show at Invisible Exports in New York until Aug. 24.

The outcome? A colorful, inventive, and unlikely array of service carts. Like "Spare Change Machine," a robotic service digests scrap metal, shapes it into coins, and excretes spare change which is then given to the homeless.

"Spare Change Machine." Image: The Extrapolation Factory

"Those were some of the most unruly students in the class," said Montgomery, remembering that group. "Their ideas were community-orientated, and even though they were ruffians in class, they had an idea which was really altruistic."

"Instabug," is fun, an animal-operated service that deploys wireless-enabled photographing insects to document your life and upload it to social media. Oh, and it's made with a yellow hair roller and plastic lizards. 

"That team of girls were very excited about the project," Montgomery said. "They started early on and kept on turning this idea over and over, adding to their cart. They were laughing the whole time—they really liked that idea."

There's "The Facebook Police," a service that helps to seek out and manage social media bullying on a neighborhood scale. 

"Weather Controller" looks like a Mickey Mouse kazoo paired with a light bulb, dog toy and florescent plastic headbands. It's supposed to alter approaches to weather systems to help communities avoid potentially-damaging weather, while  "Climate Cart" helps offer safer climate conditions for animals and plants "for rare, endangered and unusual species."

"Platano Garden." Image: The Extrapolation Factory

One of the favorites imagines plantains as a solution for a climate-wracked future. 

"One girl decided if there was a service, it would be good to grow genetically modified plantains that senses long-term climate change in your body when you eat the plantains," said Montgomery. "This is really taking some ideas around genetic modification to a very different level, instead of seeing this behaviour as anti-eco, she is putting it as a proponent of eco, a lot of synthetic biologists are arguing at this point."

Some aren't so futuristic, after all. One project that scored brownie points was the "Bugfarm," a mobile beehive (made from wine corks, lamp heads and a plastic bird on wheels) that offers symbiotic insects for urban farms or local gardens.

"With the growth of urban agriculture," said Montgomery, "that actually feels like a believable service to me."