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Urban Innovation Lab Coming To Dallas

Imagine a place in downtown Dallas where young people come together to do everything from experiment with 3D printers to design rooftop gardens. That idea is about to become a reality. Stephanie Hunt and her husband Hunter, along with the Institute for Engineering & Humanity at Southern Methodist University, are planning to build an innovation lab for youth by next spring. 

Stephanie Hunt has been working on her idea for the Urban Innovation Lab for Youth for years. Frustrated by high youth unemployment and the basic lack of access teens have to new technologies, she says current innovation labs are mostly private institutions, at Fortune 500 companies such as Google or elite schools like Harvard or MIT. This urban innovation lab will be near public transportation and open to all young people in Dallas.

“Our thought is to connect kids with garage inventors, DIYers, engineering professors, really its anyone and everyone,” she says.

The idea is to bring people together who might otherwise never meet and create an incubator for ideas. Hunt says high school students and recent graduates will learn to use technology to improve their neighborhoods.

“Maybe they could create video games for their community or maybe apps, whether it's legislation the city council is looking at to fix my street, I think there’s a lot of opportunities on the Internet and we need to provide that platform to the underserved communities as well,” she says.

The centerpiece of The Urban Innovation Lab for Youth will be The Plastiki. The 60-foot-long catamaran, which is made of more than 12,00 plastic bottles, showcases the type of creative design the lab is all about.

In 2010, David David de Rothschild sailed the boat across the Pacific Ocean to draw attention to waste and show how trash can be used as a resource. De Rothschild could have given Plastiki to any museum in any city, but he chose to give it to Hunt’s new Innovation Lab in Dallas.

“I think Dallas is a fascinating city for a number of reasons,” he says, “You’ve got the south side of Dallas, which is very different to the north side of Dallas – and for me this was a project that was always inclusive and hopefully this will be something that can act as a medium for bringing together people through curiosity not through their financial demography.”

De Rothschild and Hunt hope The Plastiki will inspire young people to dream and think big – and they see the Innovation Lab as a safe space for  the next generation of engineers and architects.

Hunt and her husband Hunter, a member of KERA’s board of directors, are also targeting those dreamers and thinkers with their Engineering and Humanity Week, which starts Saturday with a dinner featuring de Rothschild.