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Museums: Community Booster or Neighborhood Nuisance?

Museums: Community Booster or Neighborhood Nuisance?

Quiet, tasteful, meticulously maintained – who wouldn’t want a museum right next door? Quite a lot of people, as it turns out. The NIMBY (not in my back yard) syndrome is targeting museums more and more often. Between 1990 and 2014, the number of museums in the U.S. doubled, from approximately 17,500 to 35,000. This exponential growth is creating push-back in neighborhoods where residents are concerned about increased traffic, insufficient parking, and architectural conformity.

Although people generally consider museums to be an economic boost and a status symbol, they aren’t eager to have them move onto the block. Residents of Mt. Pleasant, SC, adjacent to Charleston, objected strenuously to the proposed National Medal of Honor Museum. It was a good thematic fit for the city’s harbor-side park where the aircraft carrier “Yorktown” is permanently docked. But the building’s design was too tall, and it didn’t suit the coastal style of the city.

City planners go to great lengths to involve communities in decisions about the sites of public facilities like museums. However, as planning expert Larry Susskind points out, most planners neglect to address people’s most important question: How will this affect my own property value? Susskind states that most NIMBY opposition results from feeling that the negative impacts (size, appearance, traffic, etc.) far outweigh the benefits. He advocates compensating neighbors who will be negatively affected, offering a package of incentives like property tax abatements and street beautification, along with design changes such as traffic re-routing and building size reduction.

The designers of the National Medal of Honor Museum were asked by the city to reduce the museum’s planned 125’ height to something closer to the city’s 50’ height ordinance. This change is likely to require a reduction of all the administrative areas, and one way to keep a museum’s physical size manageable is to keep the storage footprint as compact as possible. High-density shelving reduces a storage footprint by 80%, and the shelving is adaptable to all the unusual shapes and sizes of objects a museum is likely to collect. Multi-level storage racks make the most of vertical storage space, while specialized art racks keep paintings safe and secure.

Addressing NIMBY opposition is never an easy task for museum directors, and sometimes a smaller building is part of the “compensation package” that earns a community’s support and approval. Designing with space-efficient storage systems will preserve space for all the amazing artifacts in the museum’s collection – the biggest benefit for the community that is home to the museum.


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