• 10.21.13

The Future of Pop-Up Hackspaces Is… Dumpsters?

The Inflato Dumpster is an open community education space allowing locals to build DIY skills on the side of the street.

Pop-up hackspaces are the beachheads of choice for blossoming hacker communities, but finding a location to host it can be time-consuming and expensive–difficult in any community, but much more so in cities. So the New York City-based Department of Urban Betterment (DUB) decided to ditch the hassle of nailing down existing space and made a community hacking and education location…in an inflatable lab “anchored” within a streetside construction dumpster.


To put it simply, the DUB’s Inflato Dumpster concept is a gift of public space to whichever community it’s parked in. To put it more complexly, the Inflato Dumpster is part education center, part art installation, and part a rethinking of what constitutes public space.

With an “inflatable” tent made of inexpensive, biodegradable mylar and an 8’x23′ dumpster, DUB wants communities to see how easy it is to create more space for themselves. Turns out that DUB only needs a simple dumpster permit to inhabit the street for a few days–which they see as a three-car-space walk-in gift for communities to inhabit and use for DIY hacky projects while DUB projects a “feed” of local demographic info on the inside of the inflatable workshop:

“We hope that everyone who participates in Inflato gains the means to manifest their own agency through small, cheap, and off-the-shelf DIY interventions that harness those ‘streams of demographic and subjective information,’” said DUB cofounder Joaquin Reyes.

By “interventions,” Reyes means gadget- and data-empowered actions by locals designed to take more control of their neighborhood. This is intentionally vague: Whereas some communities may benefit more from walking out of a workshop with the know-how to test neighborhood air quality or build a community intranet, others may use the space for performance art. The bottom line is for the Inflato to be an instructive nexus: After it moves on, communities will have laid the groundwork to productively collaborate on projects that matter to them, like continuing the projection of neighborhood demographic info onto blank neighborhood walls or establishing community art exhibitions in the empty space along and between storefronts, perhaps augmented by DIY displays they learned to build inside the Inflato.

And perhaps the community will imitate the Inflato entirely: While DUB sees the construction dumpster as a symbolic representation of change, it’s also a cheap setup for the space (over 2,000 cubic feet for the $3,700 DUB is raising in its Kickstarter campaign). DUB has done socially empowering local remodeling before with last year’s phone booth libraries, so it’s no surprise that the Inflato Dumpster is envisioned to be an affordable repurposing powerhouse. Like the phone booths, the Inflato Dumpster doesn’t just want to build community-served space–it wants to challenge your assumption of what you can repurpose for your neighborhood.

Even if it’s just a flash in the pan for some communities, establishing mobile, affordable community-improvement workshops is an awesome exercise for urbanites locked into the belief that local space can’t belong to locals. If repurposing dumpsters is this easy, what other mundane eyesores can be re-envisioned for public instructional space?