Future Cities Initiatives

The Museum launched Future Cities in 2023 with a public symposium asking what communities and neighborhoods lose when housing is unaffordable. Building off the day’s momentum, in partnership with AARP, we are scaling Future Cities into a three-year investigation of the changing nature of the urban environment as it evolves to meet the challenges of urban growth and aging demographics. The wellbeing and prosperity of urban residents relies not only on the functionality and health of the city, but on the vibrant life of the urban core, unique in its identity, diversity, and culture. Globally, rapid urbanization is at the nucleus of multiple crises including growing inequality, climate change, housing shortages, biodiversity loss, and food and water security. How do our cities evolve to remain and become beacons of space that are livable, desirable and vibrant?

As cities tackle these critical challenges, the future city reimagines a more equitable, sustainable, and livable future for all urban residents. How will innovations in transportation, technology, policy, and civic engagement inform and change cities? What does the future city look like, and how does it provide greater access and agency for its urban residents? The National Building Museum will investigate how communities, industry, and government can and will work together to shape the greatest reimagining of the American landscape since World War II.

Housing Affordability Summit

On September 19, 2023, the National Building Museum hosted the Future Cities: Housing Affordability Summit, a day-long convening around the topic of affordable housing. One overarching question guided the day: What do communities and neighborhoods lose when housing is unaffordable? Recognizing that neither policy, design, nor advocacy alone can meaningfully address the underlying inequity of housing in America, a diverse group of 22 thought leaders from these fields engaged in critical conversations about the challenges and opportunities facing communities around this timely issue. They were joined by 257 attendees. 

The Museum hosted the Summit in association with A Better Way Home: The Housing Affordability Breakthrough Challenge, which opened in October 2022. This exhibition tells the story of the six winners of the $20 million grant competition sponsored by Wells Fargo and Enterprise Community Partners to transform how affordable housing is built, financed, and serves and supports residents. This exhibition is on display through January 2024.


In addition to the speakers, several pop-up interactives and books were featured in the venue to further the overall understanding of the breadth and depth of affordable housing. Pop-up exhibitions included: Democracy Is…., an immersive pop-up exhibition by The Practice of Democracy, exploring the relationship between the promises of democracy and lived experiences through a past to present timeline; Before the Bulldozers: Historic Southwest D.C. Exposed, an audio and augmented reality pop-up exhibition by the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum, telling the story of the country’s first large-scale urban renewal project that uprooted an entire community of people to create new neighborhood; and The Future of Housing in an Aging Amercia, an interactive pop-up by AARP, showcasing the AARP Livability Index™ platform , a web-based tool that scores neighborhoods and communities across the U.S. through services and amenities. Books on the topic were also displayed and available for purchase at the Museum, ranging from The Affordable City: Strategies for Putting Housing Within Reach (and Keeping it There) by Shane Philips, to Missing Middle Housing: Thinking Big and Building Small to Respond to Today’s Housing Crisis by Dan Parolek, to Socializing Architecture: Top-Down / Bottom-Up, by Teddy Cruz and Fonna Forman. Finally, the Museum’s exhibition A Better Way Home was also open, and many attendees toured it throughout the day.


In total, 257 people attended the Summit representing a wide range of demographics and professions. Of the total attendees, 44% identified as white and 40% as persons of color. Participants were evenly split across age ranges and we were pleased that 15% were students. The majority of attendees came from the Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia region, yet almost 10% visited from outside the local area. A variety of professions were represented including architecture and design, housing sector, urban planners, academics, historic preservationists, developers, and policy advocates. We were thrilled to offer CEUs through the American Institute of Architects, with 24 participants taking advantage of this offering. The Summit enabled the Museum to reach a wider audience with partners sharing information on the Summit through their social media channels, including DC Office of Planning, Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, Washington Housing Conservancy, and Smart Growth America. 

Looking Ahead 

Housing has always been central to the Museum’s work. The exhibition Affordable Housing: Designing an American Asset opened in 2004, and Evicted, which was at the Museum in 2018-2019, ended its national tour this year. In 2011, the How Housing Matters conference, a one-day convening, presented in partnership with the MacArthur Foundation, HUD and PD&R began a multi-year partnership between these organizations to explore affordable housing. The work included a second symposium in 2014 and the opening of House & Home, which remains one of our signature exhibitions. 

With this strong history, the Museum is committed to continuing to engage audiences around this important topic. In December of 2023, in partnership with AARP, the Museum announced plans for a multi-year Future Cities initiative that will explore the future of the country’s urban spaces and how we can increase the livability of our neighborhoods and communities to make them vibrant and welcoming places for people of all ages. Read more about the partnership here and watch the video below to learn more about the AARP Livability Index™platform.


Thank you to the sponsors of the Housing Affordability Summit: AARP, Allstate, Enterprise Community Partners, Wells Fargo, The American Institute of Architects, American Society of Landscape Architects, Arup, MiTek, NCARB, STUDIOS Architecture, Bonstra | Haresign ARCHITECTS, and Moody Nolan.