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Prof. Dr. Stefanie Molthagen-Schnöring

Project Lead „Zukunft findet Stadt“

With its focus on core topics health and the climate, the project "Zukunft findet Stadt - Hochschulnetzwerk für ein resilientes Berlin" is something that is so far unique for Berlin: Five Berlin universities of applied sciences - the HTW Berlin University of Applied Sciences (HTW Berlin), the Berliner Hochschule für Technik (BHT), the Berlin School of Economics and Law (HWR Berlin), the Protestant University of Applied Sciences Berlin (EHB) and the Catholic University of Applied Sciences Berlin (KHSB) - are pooling their expertise and developing and testing transfer formats in cooperation with companies, institutions and the citizens of the city with the goal of creating, as the name of the project suggests, a university network for a resilient Berlin. The project, which started at the beginning of 2023, is being funded over a period of five years with a total of eight million euros as part of the Innovative Hochschule (Innovative University) initiative launched by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). Many of the “Zukunft findet Stadt” sub-projects and partnerships will include smart city approaches, for example through the real-world lab of the Sustainable Smart Cities research cluster on the HTW Berlin campus.

Professor Dr. Molthagen-Schnöring, what do the five Berlin universities involved in "Zukunft findet Stadt" want to achieve with the project?

The starting point of our joint application for the funding initiative "Innovative Hochschule" (German only) was that we realized that many great research projects are already underway at the five participating Berlin universities of applied sciences. It was important to us to bundle the different topics and research competences, to make them more visible and to use them more for the city of Berlin.

This bundling takes place along two subject areas: Health and climate. How were these selected?

Both are key topics that are of great concern to Berlin. They are also thematic areas in which the research competences of the universities involved in “Zukunft findet Stadt” complement each other perfectly. HTW Berlin and BHT are more technically oriented, EHB and KHSB add approaches from the social and health sectors, and HWR Berlin brings in expertise from economics and administrative sciences as well as selected technical specialisations. Bringing these different perspectives together within the framework of “Zukunft findet Stadt” – together with Berlin’s urban society, the business community and civil society – is an exciting experiment for us.

How do you find partners for the project?

Of course, all participating universities already have cooperations and cooperation partners. In terms of content, we are very open beyond our two focal points. There are many topics we can dock onto and in future we want to address small and medium-sized enterprises in particular, which are often unsure where they could start. Often, such cooperations lead to smaller projects at first. For example, it can lead to final theses, student projects or a doctorate. However, such small-scale collaborations can certainly develop into larger research projects.

So the projects are initiated by the universities?

Projects are being launched, people are being networked and the first prototypes are to be created. That is why we have also integrated formats into "Zukunft findet Stadt" such as hackademies or labs. We want to open our labs and make them usable for actors from civil society or for companies that have concrete questions and want to work with the students on site. Incidentally, such questions can also be embedded in existing courses. We also want to explore points of contact between science and business with a roadshow through Berlin companies. After all, as Berlin's universities of applied sciences, we are there for the city. And we want innovations that are created in Berlin to be implemented here - and to stay here.

You already mentioned the planned roadshow. What other measures do you intend to use to gain additional partners for "Zukunft findet Stadt"?

We deliberately chose existing partnerships with institutions such as the Johannisstift Diakonie, the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin and the Impact Hub Berlin in order to increase our visibility in urban society and thus make it clear to the outside world that universities are an important location factor for Berlin. We have planned other ways to build partnerships with companies: On the one hand, we draw the attention of other companies to the project through multipliers such as Berlin Partner for Business and Technology, the Berlin-Brandenburg business associations and the Berlin Chamber of Industry and Commerce (IHK Berlin). A matching platform will also initiate cooperation projects between science and business. The needs of the companies and the expertise of the universities are to be brought together in a targeted manner via the platform. We will involve the urban society in a very low-threshold manner using formats such as the "KiezTalks" in order to consider together with our researchers what can be done for the respective neighbourhood or district.

Keyword Third Mission: Why is the transfer of knowledge from the university so important today?

We don't work in a vacuum. Research and science should benefit society: Through the education of young people, who are prepared in the best possible way to find their place in professional life later on. But also by making knowledge, which is also developed in cooperation with actors from the economy, with other non-university research institutions, etc., available to society again. Take climate change: science has now developed many great approaches that can help to counter climate change. We will not be able to stop it, but we can try to meet this challenge together as a society. It may sound a bit idealistic, but I would say that is a very obvious reason for knowledge transfer. The other is to keep a clear eye on the fact that scientific research results can also be used in practice and become relevant.

To what extent is the smart city a topic within the “Zukunft findet Stadt” project?

We predominantly consider the smart city in connection with sustainability matters and are taking a closer look at where, and how, a smart city can be sustainable and resilient. The underlying idea of this project is to take the user’s perspective; in other words, to not search for one-dimensional, entirely technological solutions that might not even get used all that much and instead involve experts from other fields, such as user centred design – and the population. Ultimately, we might even wind up in the field of citizen science; residents could test new applications in their regional environment on their smartphones, for example.

In 2021 HTW Berlin established the interdisciplinary Sustainable Smart Cities research cluster. As the cluster’s real-worldlab, has the HTW Berlin campus been integrated into the “Zukunft findet Stadt” project?

Exactly. Our colleagues within the Sustainable Smart Cities research cluster (German only) are excellent at transferring knowledge and are already cooperating with many of the districts; contacts that are obviously extremely valuable to the project. Recently, we also met with the climate protection officers within the districts to discuss how they can get in touch with us if they have corresponding questions.

What do you think the city of the future will look like?

To me, the city of the future will be one thing above all others: green. And it will be a place of communication. I always picture a small Italian town: people meeting on the piazza in the evenings; everyone spending a lot of time outside, talking to one another. I think we need more spaces like that to create encounters between different age groups and social classes. This is something that will probably only work in the individual neighbourhoods, but I do believe it can strengthen how we identify with a city like Berlin. And maybe even how responsible we all feel for our city.

Please complete the following sentence: “Berlin is a smart city, because...”

Because of the people. There are so many smart people in the city who think about what they are doing from different perspectives and develop creative solutions. To me, the abundance of smart people has always been what makes Berlin THE city I want to live and work in. (vdo)

The “Zukunft findet Stadt” project (German only)

A modified version of this interview was originally published at BrainCity.Berlin.



© HTW Berlin/Alexander Rentsch
© HTW Berlin/Alexander Rentsch

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