One of the beauties of the Lab is that everyone’s experience within it is different. This is true for the audience as well as those of us who have spent every waking hour beneath the Lab’s ceiling for the past three months. So as we round the bend on the final weekend of the Lab’s run in New York, I asked staff members to provide one favorite memory each—a special moment that they will hold close once the Lab departs for Berlin.
Here they are, at a glimpse:
I actually got really close with people on the block. People you say hi to everyday and have this communal feeling with them and it’s really wonderful. I feel comfortable here, and I wouldn’t have had that opportunity if I hadn’t been working here four months. Everyone on the block is so amazing. I get very attached to places and people, so losing them both at the same time is going to be really sad. I’m going to miss it.—Maria Gambino
One of my favorite moments was during Basurama, when we were walking around New York City on the street, digging through trash, with gloves, without gloves, then lining it up on the sidewalk, and everyone else walking around us looking at us like we were crazy.… It was something I would never do normally, and never think to do normally, and it really made me think about what we consider as waste. I think the Lab really pushes your own thoughts and ideas on comfort by putting you in situations that before you would have never possibly thought to put yourself in.—Alexandra Bolinder-Gibsand
We had four little kids and one who was standing on the side, and then five adults on the Urbanology board. So the question was this—”Will you allow public access to school playgrounds?” Immediately the kids, once it sank in, they said, “Oh heck no, no no no no,” and I heard the one kid’s voice from the side say, “No, the big kids break things, and they don’t put it back together.” It matches exactly with some of the notes from adults in other games where they say, “No we’ll have a maintenance issue…” with one decision or another. Kids or adults, it turns out they come up with the same logic.—Eric J. Henderson
I have to say my favorite experience at the Lab was when we had a group of first graders come to play Urbanology and they were all standing around the board and their little toes were on the edge of the board, and they were really passionately answering these questions. We didn’t even know if they would understand the complexities and tradeoffs of them. And we had one question where we anticipated the kids would overwhelmingly answer yes. The question was “Will you put the latest technologies into schools?” And all the kids were jumping up and down saying, “Yeah, yeah!” and then one kid raised his hand and said, “But the latest technology will use a lot of energy and that could really hurt the earth.” I was flabbergasted. This was a six-year-old.—Kate Dineen
My favorite moment of the Lab was when we had the big storm that blew the curtains in and water came rushing in and it kind of looked like a giant flood. It was mayhem. People kind of acted like it was the end of the world, even though it was just a storm, and it was pretty funny.—Janel D’Ammassa
So I’ve thought about this and I’ve got to give it up to Bronx Grub. They came in here, set up shop, they cooked and prepared free food for the public, and it was all locally sourced food. So it’s one thing to kind of talk about green spaces and cooperatives, but it’s another to actually bring it to the people and just feed them. I think it was the quickest way for people to realize, yeah, this is stuff we can do in the city.… That day there was a guy that had come by here several times and never come in, but just because of the way the space was arranged that day, with many people enjoying themselves, he decided to come in. He was so skeptical of the Lab, he was a Lower East Side guy that was wary of any corporate entity in this area, but for some reason, because that day was such a good day here, he came in, he took six ears of corn home and was talking about joining the food cooperative in Park Slope. He left here completely turned around. It was really great.—Joseph Field
I have two favorite moments. One of them was a moment that was very stressful, which was the first protest. In the end it turned out to be a beautiful program element, because it was a protest about gentrification and class war, and the next week our programs were all about gentrification. And then my second favorite moment was with an elderly lady called Bethany. Rosanna and I were talking to her for about half an hour, and she started crying because she realized that we were doing programs about the elderly, and she thought it was really beautiful that young people were doing that. Separately those two moments are not so interesting, but together they show two extremes in reaction to the Lab—one very emotional on the positive side and one very emotional on the negative side, and I have the feeling we’re balancing constantly between those two.—David van der Leer
I had this guy from the neighborhood who was genuinely angry that we were leaving—he was like, ‘How can you come and do something like this and then leave, you should leave the building behind, the structure should stay.’ So it was a contradictory moment, but the beauty of it was that he actually really wanted us to stay.
I think my favorite moments are those moments where there’s a change in people’s perceptions—people in the neighborhood hating your guts, and then people in the neighborhood loving what the Lab is doing. It’s really difficult to quantify that, but when you see that people have actually had the patience and willingness to come and listen and think, and then say, “Okay, I’m going to listen a little more,” and then you see that something has happened and they’ve changed their mind. Not that we’ve convinced them, but that they’ve just changed their viewpoint, whether it is to agree with us or to disagree with us. It doesn’t matter.—Maria Nicanor
And then there’s me, Christine McLaren, the blogger. My favorite moment was one that I’ve recited over and over, and wrote about on the blog. It was when David Kidd read out the results from the Urbanology game that was played at Love Night—the night we converted the Lab into the ideal environment to nudge people toward trusting and bonding encounters with strangers. He announced that people who played the game that night not only prioritized livability, sustainability, and lifestyle far more than wealth, but that they voted in favor of generous and empathetic policies that other groups usually shut down. I cried as he read the results, and I realized that designing places that encourage convivial encounters instead of those that encourage conflict actually matters—that it not only enriches our own experience within the city, but also changes our politics and policies about the type of city we want to live in.