Miami-Dade County

Miami Science Barge wins Knight award

A preliminary drawing of the Miami Science Barge.
A preliminary drawing of the Miami Science Barge.

Ahoy Miami, make room for the Science Barge.

The Miami Science Barge is envisioned as a marine innovation lab, a hybrid between a floating urban farm and environmental education center powered by renewable energy. The concept was one of 32 winners nationwide in the inaugural Knight Cities Challenge.

The goal of the winning proposal, submitted by Nathalie Manzano-Smith with the science nonprofit CappSci, is to create a public focal point for Miami’s climate issues. The project will receive $298,633, and the Knight funding will accelerate an ambitious timeline. Manzano-Smith said the CappSci team hopes to open the Science Barge in early 2016 in the downtown Miami area.

An initiative of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the inaugural Knight Cities Challenge attracted more than 7,000 ideas to make the 26 communities where Knight invests more vibrant places to live and work. It asked innovators of all kinds to answer the question: What’s your best idea to make cities more successful?

To win a portion of the $5 million grant funding, the 32 winners proposed ideas that included training for Detroit rehabbers who plan to combat blight by reactivating vacant buildings, creating low-cost modular housing and workspace units to test a new model for affordable housing in San Jose and installing musical swings designed to bring people together in multiple cities. Philadelphia had the most winners with six, followed by Detroit with five winners. A full list of winners can be found on The Science Barge is Miami’s sole winner.

“It shows you once again don’t ever get the notion that you know all the people with the good ideas or that you have all the good ideas, because people will prove you wrong. Challenges work so well to source ideas and new people, people who may never approach us for a grant,” said Carol Coletta, Knight Foundation vice president for community and national initiatives. “We had a lot of good ideas around bringing public life back to vacant spaces, and that was a dominant theme around the country, but I didn’t expect so many ideas on building the narrative or changing the story of a city.”

The Miami Science Barge is an example of that, she said. “There is this simplified story of Miami in the world of glitz and glamour … but as to its relationship to science, you haven’t been able to touch and feel it. Having the one-two punch of adding the Frost Museum in Museum Park and putting the science park in its proximity is a very interesting way to lift up our concerns about the physical world we live in and the ways we can take care of it.”

Manzano-Smith agrees and says Museum Park is the desired location for the 120-foot by 30-foot barge. The Science Barge team wants to create interactive programming for children and adults about marine life, sustainable technology, green living and urban farming through exhibits, workshops and demonstrations. Among the planned features is an interactive robotic camera that will allow kids to view marine life.

“We envision the science barge to be a symbol of building a sustainable Miami,” said Manzano-Smith. It will be solar powered and harvest all its water from the rain and sea. “Our goal is to provide a unique experience and let people access the bay that normally can’t.”

Next steps are purchasing the barge — the team is negotiating with a Fort Lauderdale owner now — and working through the permitting process. The team is working with the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and community partners such as Health in the Hood, Urban Greenworks and Frost Museum of Science. Northwestern Senior High’s welding program students will help construct the exhibits, said Manzano-Smith, who is director of innovation at CappSci.

The team was inspired by a barge in New York started by CappSci’s founder, Ted Caplow, a Miami-based engineer, social entrepreneur and philanthropist. The New York barge was focused on urban agriculture. Caplow is very involved in the Science Barge team, Manzano-Smith said.

“There are not many opportunities to get students out on the water here in a low-cost way. Providing that connection to the bay is really important to us, because it creates that environmental stewardship,” she said.

The Knight Cities Challenge is a three-year, $15 million project, with $5 million available annually. The second challenge will reopen for submissions in fall 2015. Based on the year one response, “it feels very much like it will become a part of our standard program,” Coletta said.

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg.