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Museum of the City opens virtual showcase of global urban sustainability
Author: Christina Williams
Posted: September 24, 2013

Chet Orloff knows museums. The historian and professor, who manages one of the largest private collections of art and history in the United States, spent a decade overseeing the galleries as director of the Oregon Historical Society. He spent another decade helping build a virtual museum of cities and linking it to an international group of city museums.  Today, his Web-based museum is an online showcase of the best urban ideas. Initially launched in 2003, the Museum of the City unveiled today its new electronic galleries at www.museumofthecity.org.

“With increasing numbers of the world’s population moving to cities every year, urban environments are critical crucibles for sustainable living,” said Orloff, an adjunct professor in PSU’s School of Urban Studies and University Studies department. “The Museum of the City explores past and present cities, exhibiting the science, art and culture, design and policies, and programs that contribute to sustainable communities.” 

Museum of the City is what Orloff calls the “home plate” for the work of students worldwide who are studying urban sustainability, exhibiting their work in an online exhibit format with text, pictures, documents, and video. Working through the International Council of Museums’ Committee for the Collections and Activities of Museums of Cities, the Museum of the City has established an international Exhibit Advisory Committee that referees and reviews exhibit submissions before they are admitted to the online gallery. 

“Researching and publishing an exhibit for the Museum of the City allowed me to explore a topic related to sustainability that was meaningful to me, and then share that newly acquired knowledge with a global audience,” said Monique Sevy, a senior at Portland State University. 

Museum of the City galleries are grouped by topic and provide brief studies of subjects including food systems, city histories, green building strategies, art, and urban infrastructures. Notable recent exhibits include a feature on historic preservation in Cuba, the rise of bike commuting in London, new urban agriculture in Detroit and green street design happening in the virtual museum’s non-virtual home in Portland.  

The Museum of the City’s website was launched as a pilot program in 2010 and receives support from the PSU Institute for Sustainable Solutions. The Museum also earns support from private donors. Its current focus is to engage student interns as “associate curators” building exhibits for the Museum’s site, which is visited by more than 15,000 viewer a month.  

“With our exhibits on cities, PSU and the Museum of the City are making urban issues and possibilities accessible to the public,” Orloff said. “We’re approaching a very large audience with information that, we believe, will contribute to increasingly better decision-making by the public and public leaders.”