Insights from Miami Science Barge, a winner of the Knight Cities Challenge

communities / Article

Nathalie Manzano-Smith is the director of innovation for CappSci, a winner of the 2015 Knight Cities Challenge, which seeks the best ideas to make one or more of the 26 Knight communities more successful using talent, opportunity or engagement. Above: Rendering, Miami Science Barge. Courtesy Miami Science Barge.

Just before the announcement of the inaugural Knight Cities Challenge, we were dreaming up a way to bring a science barge to Miami.  We were inspired by the original barge, which was created and launched in New York by CappSci’s founder and CEO, Ted Caplow, Ph.D., in 2008. The platform demonstrates sustainable farming in dense urban environments and we wanted to adapt that same model to our environment in Miami.

The process

When Knight Foundation announced the Knight Cities Challenge, we knew it would be the perfect opportunity to make our dream a reality. We believed our idea aligned perfectly with the challenge to “make cities better,” and we were happy to discover that the application was short, simple and direct. It was unique, however, in that it challenged us to not only consider what the project was, but also how it would impact our city.

One of the great things about the Knight Cities Challenge has been the ability for our idea to evolve throughout the grant process. When we initially submitted our application, it was a near-replica of the program in New York: farming focused with a greenhouse. What we realized was that this project had the potential to serve and respond to Miami’s needs and strengths. We were able to build partnerships with local people and organizations to enhance our program’s potential.

Knight also prompted us to think about the potential barriers to success in a productive way. As our core team consisted of only three individuals, after the first application was submitted it was crucial for us to engage local organizations to assist with permitting, fabrication, programming, outreach and more. This not only helped us be creative in our problem-solving approach, but to mitigate risk early on, which has allowed us to expedite the timeline in a way that would not possible otherwise. 

Ted Caplow, Nathalie Manzano-Smith and Alissa Farina with their Knight Cities Challenge Award. Photo courtesy Miami Science Barge.

About the program

The Miami Science Barge is a marine innovation lab and environmental education hub that will be located in the heart of burgeoning downtown Miami.  The program will create opportunity in Miami by spearheading local restoration efforts, showcasing sustainable technology, educating community members, and establishing a new science, technology, engineering and mathematics   (STEM) workforce. 

The Miami Science Barge will provide a platform for urban access to nature by restoring and displaying native Biscayne Bay species such as oysters, seagrasses and seahorses.

The program models closed-loop sustainability through its off-grid, off-pipe design; the Miami Science Barge will be fully powered by renewable energy and will pull fresh water from a rainwater cistern. Those resources will power our sustainable food production systems. Our aquaculture program will highlight native species, such as mahimahi and pompano, opening the discussion on the potential of offshore aquaculture in Florida. Our hydroponic and aquaponic systems will grow a variety of fruits, vegetables and herbs without the use of soil or harmful pesticides. 

The Miami Science Barge will be a STEM education center, hosting students on weekday field trips, and the public for evening and weekend tours and lectures. The platform will become the central venue for real climate and environmental science in South Florida and provide a dynamic atmosphere to relay information in an engaging way. Our programs will inspire widespread adoption of green technologies in local homes and businesses, and provide the community a convening space to discuss the future of our city.

The Miami Science Barge will be a powerful catalyst for building a sustainable Miami.

The Miami Science Barge is being outfitted on the Miami River. Its final home will be on Biscayne Bay in downtown Miami.  Photo courtesy Miami Science Barge.

Where are we now?

Over the course of the last year we have developed the Miami Science Barge from a concept to a reality. Winning the Knight Cities Challenge allowed us to dramatically accelerate the timeline of a rather complex project. We have purchased a barge to host the program, negotiated a lease with our dream location in the heart of downtown Miami, and have begun refitting the barge on the Miami River.

The buildout will take several months and our team has expanded just as rapidly to meet our current demands. Since we are on the working river, we have been able to engage unlikely partners in construction. Our current residence is at a bustling tow yard, P&L Towing, where the staff has not only embraced the program, but have gone above and beyond to make us feel welcome and ensure our success.

We are working hard to open to the public in early 2016. There is still a lot of work to be done, from securing donations, finalizing curriculum, and engaging more people and organizations with the project. We encourage you to apply to the Knight Cities Challenge, and make your idea on how to make your city great a reality.

For more information on Miami Science Barge, visit


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