While still under the influence of our latest project, we decided to share some thoughts with you. As you know by now, we normally keep ourselves busy with concept creation, development, and implementation of digital tools. But this story is a little different. For the Technische Universität Berlin, we adapted our client workshop methodology to explore the potentials of digitalization for city development together with international students of the Master Course in Urban Management.
After years of partnership with various organizations, we know that the actors of global change are often lacking knowledge about information and communication technologies (ICTs). We wanted to inspire students and share our experiences with projects that really spoke to us — projects that put people at the center.
Why Should Urbanists Care About Digitization?
Usage of the contemporary ICTs is immanent for any industry, city managers included. Spread all across the cities, sensors are gathering more data than ever before, increasing the need for efficient tools for interpretation, communication, management and eventually decision-making.
And we are just taking off. Internet and ITC technologies are blossoming, and with soon to be deployed 5G technologies, we are standing on the cusp of the Fourth Industrial Revolution with the cities in the forefront role. Lines between physical and virtual are rapidly blurring and the entire systems of production, management, and governance are being affected.
Making a Case For Smart Sustainable Cities
So, where to begin? When combined in the same sentence, words like technology, virtuality, and city, are bound to invoke images of Blade Runner inspired habitats, today associated with the concept of the smart city. Having said that, the notion of smart cities has been around for some twenty years or so, and already feels outdated to some. Welcome to the fast-paced digital world.
Smart cities are boring! They represent a technocratic model of urban planning, that uses the same old top-down governance structure, omitting the role of the civil society. We should ask ourselves, why should an urbanist deploy massive amounts of sensors all around the city, while its inhabitants already have them in possession? Take smartphones for instance: citizens can actively create information and engage instantly with the world around them.
Rather, we should discuss and eventually create smart sustainable cities. Let’s empower local stakeholders with cities that listen rather than dictate, cities that adapt to our needs and involve us in the decision-making process. A collective discussion needs to take place before ICTs start to improve the quality of life, the efficiency of urban operation and services while ensuring that cities meet the needs of present and future generations with respect to economic, social, environmental as well as cultural aspects. The future, as we may predict it, relies heavily on the technology everybody is swiftly gaining access to. So why aren’t we using it to rejuvenate democracy?
The Production of the Workshop
In the span of two days, we invited students to examples of revitalized spaces, we proudly call our two offices. The objective of the workshop introduction was to inspire students with strategies of digital cooperation and participation, two aspects we find most compelling in all the projects we get involved in. We discussed the role of emerging digitization processes shaping the nearby future of cities in order to expand students’ imagination.
Transfiguring participation from theory to praxis, we equipped the student s with an ICT methodology checklist and invited them to map out an innovative ICT-based urban project. Using our project layout sheets, students cooperated with each other in seven working groups, using their personal expertise and local knowledge, to create a comprehensive draft of their passion project.
With seven finished drafts, we embarked upon the second day, this time focussing solely on their pitches. Listening to the students devotedly illustrate their project, we felt inspired by their drive to change the world, a drive we share with many of our clients.
Students’ diversity reflected itself in varieties of presented issues taking different approaches. For instance, one very ambitious trio decided to build a website tackling low civic involvement in Indian urban planning. Taking a different route, the second group’s plan was to use a data collection strategy building up impartial information source on pollution causes in the Korean peninsula. Directed towards policy-makers, their intent was to pave the road towards a green future. The intention of one very bold project was to restructure Ramsar, Iran, into a zero-waste city. The proposed plan involved analysis of the city’s waste management and inhabitants’ consumption habits and utilizing gathered information on their further strategy and promotion, aiming to change habits of citizens.
We used this chance to give them constructive feedback on what they should pay attention to during development of digital projects. We were delighted to see that all brought compelling issues to the table and showed us concrete cases around the world where ICTs may hopefully soon change the game.
Having accomplished an engaging educational experience of ITC-based project design, we again urged the participants to take the end-user and the SDGs in their full consideration. Convinced that the workshop made an impact on the future urban managers, we would like to thank them for their eagerness and shown interest. Hoping our paths cross again, we can say: “bis bald!”
With special thanks to Afia Afenah, Marcela Arrieta, and Dr. Bettina Hamman.