Lab Fellow Portraits #4 | Urban Participation Lab

Urban Participation Lab – a new voice for city dwellers

Digital participation for urban development and more livable cities: this is what the Fellows from the Urban Participation Lab (UP Lab) stand for – one of six teams in the Urban Ideation Lab, the laboratory for the urban quarter of the future and the heart of B-Part Am Gleisdreieck. The digital company founded by Justus Schuchardt and Oskar Lingk develops innovative methods for sustainable urban planning and better participation of citizens in urban development projects.

For example the Ebertplatz in Cologne: an urban problem zone, as you find it in some cities. Characteristic features are poor road connections, inadequate lighting and, instead of the quality of living, an uninviting aura for residents and pedestrians alike. To redesign a problem hotspot like Ebertplatz in such a way that people feel comfortable, it is necessary to find out how city dwellers truly imagine their space.

In the traditional planning process, this usually meant that residents could obtain information from the districts or project sponsors and participate. Experience has shown, however, that only a small proportion of those affected, i.e. the committed people who actively take care of their participation. Accordingly, such procedures, which are no longer compatible with the demands of contemporary urban planning, are less representative and plural.

The Urban Participation Lab team has developed a digital methodology to turn the tables and involve more people in urban projects. Using social media channels and geo-targeting, a much wider audience can be targeted and won over for the respective projects. Instead of citizens having to present themselves to districts or property developers, this method brings urban planning directly to the people.

Back to Cologne’s Ebertplatz: Justus Schuchardt carried out his first research work here in collaboration with Aalborg University in Copenhagen. With their digital survey tools, they achieved a response of around 2,000 questionnaires linked to demographic data within a few days, from which a comprehensive picture of the mood of the residents at their Ebertplatz could be derived. For example, fear rooms or possibilities for improvement in pathways, lighting concepts, and usage options were identified. The result is an urban planning analysis that is quantitatively comprehensive, qualitatively meaningful and attractively visualized, which would be difficult to achieve by conventional means.

The two founders Justus Schuchardt and Oskar Lingk hit a nerve with their company founded at the beginning of the year. This is confirmed by the demand of numerous orders and projects such as:

  • Münster: Digital Participation for the Master Plan Mobility Münster 2035+ on behalf of the City of Münster.
  • Indien: Support of a research project in cooperation with the TU Berlin. Goal: Research into environmental awareness in three Indian cities.
  • Hamburg, “Hammerbrooklyn”: In the Hammerbrook district, a new, urban future location is being created to positively shape the future of the city, the economy, and society for the people.
  • Hamburg – Pinneberg: Commuter survey in cooperation with Orange Edge and on behalf of the City of Hamburg, Interreg Baltic Sea Region and the EU.

These projects show that the new opportunities for more intensive participation in urban planning have long been on the agenda of municipalities, planners and project sponsors and that real change is taking place here at the moment. For city dwellers this may not yet be visible across the board, as urban development will take a long time. But the new participation opportunities and offers are continuously being expanded thanks to digital methods, whereby increasingly more livable and sustainable urban districts are being established.

One example is the B-Part Am Gleisdreieck itself, in which the UP Lab team has found an optimal location with direct networking possibilities. A joint workshop with the Lab Fellow team of nexTT, the specialists for data visualization, is currently being planned. Besides, there could hardly be a more obvious topic than dealing with the track triangle park itself, which is also on the UP Lab’s project list.

Ultimately, the new tool of digital participation holds enormous potential: Instead of unilaterally planned projects or buildings that are built without any connection to their surroundings and the residents, inclusive processes create urban living spaces that people can really identify with.