Smart City Berlin, Digitalization, KI, Participation

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Participation at the click of the mouse

Berlin is a city in permanent transition. And the citizens of Berlin have an ever more active say in how the Smart City Berlin will change in the future. Digital participation platforms offer the opportunity to civic society to add ideas, experiences and opinions to research projects and political processes – in virtual think tanks as well as directly within the neighbourhoods. An overview.

The Town Hall of the Future is being created in Berlin. It’s going to be built at Alexanderplatz – on the site of the community-oriented model project “Haus der Statistik” (House of Statistics). But what is the building supposed to look like? Which values will it represent? And what possibilites for action and interaction will it offer? This – and that what makes the project so unique – is where the citizens of Berlin can actively participate in the decision making process since January. Until 12 March 2021, people can anonymously leave “their voice” per mouse click on – as an easily recorded audio file.

The digital participation platform launched by the Senate Department for Urban Development and Housing deliberately pursues a low-threshold approach, to “pick up multifarious impulses from the urban society and to create a public space” – explains Regula Lüscher, Senate Building Director and State Secretary for Urban Development and Living. The approach seems to work, because on the website you can already listen to a wide variety of suggestions: One of the voices wishes for a building with a courageous architecture: “It should be a high rise building that is constructed primarily from wood and other renewable raw materials.” Another one suggests “a town hall as a place to stay, where I can get news about the development of the district and the city and I can – to a lesser extend – participate.”

Digital participation makes democratic processes more responsive

“Stimmen per Knopfdruck” (“voices at the push of a button”) is just one of many digital or hybrid participation projects, that include citizens in the development of city districts and neighbourhoods. The topics are thereby as varied as the metropolis: There are discussions about safe cycling in the city, mobile sharing services, the sustainable shaping of public spaces within the neighbourhoods, energy efficiency in living areas or political participation.

To speed up this development on the administrative side and to and to allow Berliners to participate more in the transformation of the city in the future, the Senate got a concept off the ground at the end of January. This is intended to implement the guidelines for the participation of urban society in spatial urban development projects and processes, which were already adopted in summer 2019, in a "swift and citizen-friendly" manner.

Involvement in the form of citizen participation is also the cornerstone of the Berlin Smart City Strategy, which the Berlin Senate intends to launch in phases together with the urban society via various participation formats by the end of 2022, as part of the model project “Berlin lebenswert smart” (“Berlin livable smart”). 

The big advantage of participation via Internet, smart phone or tablet is obvious: “Digital participation ideally makes democratic processes more responsive and easier to integrate into the daily life of citizens,” says Moritz Ritter, Managing Director of the non-profit initiative Liquid Democracy, which aims to modernise democratic processes through more direct involvement. “In addition, digital processes are much better documented and the results are more traceable. This increases transparency.” However, in order for these advantages to take effect, well-designed participation processes and open software platforms are needed – beyond from commercial social networks, Ritter explains further. “Digital participation is particularly successful where it is combined with analogue elements.”

Transformative accompaniment of change processes in the city

StadtManufaktur Berlin combines both. In the summer of 2020, the joint initiative of the Technische Universität Berlin (TU Berlin), the Zentrum Technik und Gesellschaft (ZTG, Center for Technology and Society) of the TU Berlin and the Einstein Center Digital Future was officially launched. Different from CityLAB Berlin, which digitally brings together a wide variety of actors in an experimental participation network, StadtManufaktur bundles up only TU projects. "Our aim is to scientifically support existing transformation processes in the city or to initiate processes through science in order to bring about positive change within the urban space," explains Prof. Dr. Gabriele Wendorf, ZTG Scientific Director. The superordinated aim of StadtManufaktur: To make the results of scientific research visible and to bring them “to the public” in projects. The target groups of StadtManufaktur are scientists, citizens and also stakeholders from politics, the economy, administration, art and culture. In short: Berlin civil society and science talking at eye level.

The projects, summarised in four topic areas “Climate Resilience”, “Energy Transition”, “Circular Economy” and “Transformational Knowledge” under the roof of StadtManufaktur, are considered to be “real-world laboratories”: urban space for experimentation in which ideas can be developed, tried, implemented and scientifically accompanied. The TU scientists are closely working together with the stakeholders of the urban society, which in turn add their experience and practical knowlegde; digital and analogue approaches to participation are closely interwoven. StadtManufaktur is also integrated into a nationwide real-world lab network - in order to be able to disseminate results beyond the region. 

“The participation we are thinking about is quite broad. External stakeholders can not only have their say in the projects, but also help formulate research topics,” says Dr.-Ing. Anja Steglich, Consultant for Urban Transformation and Transfer at the presidium of TU Berlin. “Berlin is essentially a city with an unbelievable ability to change. This has been proved over the past 30 years. The direction in which the city will develop has a lot to do with how this change will be accompanied.”

Gentle approach of the stakeholders

One of the real world laboratories that could well determine the direction towards sustainable change in Berlin is the project “Neue Mobilität Berlin” (NMB, New Mobility Berlin) that runs since 2016. On the Mierendorff Island in Charlottenburg and at Klausnerplatz, the mobility needs of residents are being researched in various sub-projects. The aim is to jointly develop new solutions for sustainable, local mobility and to increase the quality of life in the neighbourhood. However, addressing local actors and actively involving them in the process requires a great deal of sensitivity, says Gabriele Wendorf from experience. “You have to proceed very carefully and be aware of local interests beforehand. When it comes to change processes in the city, it helps a lot to hold preliminary talks – with the District Office and the Public Order Office, with mobility and citizen’s initiatives and also with local businesses. And it is important to find ‘allies’.”

On the Mierendorff Island for example, “Neue Mobilität Berlin” was looking for volunteers to park their cars in a multi-storey car park which they were allowed to use for free. This freed up parking space that could be used by the project to increase the quality of the ambience in the neighbourhood. “In doing so, we stole the thunder of those who wanted to argue against us right from the start,” says Gabriele Wendorf. 

The results are more deliberate and better 

StadtManufaktur was founded in 2019 – initial results already support the approach of digitally involving citizens in projects and combining this process with analogue elements: “The results are better, more deliberate, more appropriate, more crisis-proof. They are answers to the challenges of our time,” says Anja Steglich. What impulses will come from the “Stimmen auf Knopfdruck” at Alexanderplatz will become clear in ten years at the latest: That’s when the “Town Hall of the Future” is supposed to be finished. (vdo)

10 Berlin participation platforms (selection)

It’s already in the name: BBBlockchain is a blockchain-based participation platform. The research project of the Einstein Center Digital Future examines how blockchain technologies can be used for participation in urban development. The issue is more transparency and a say in building projects. 

CityLAB Berlin
CityLAB Berlin is an experimental laboratory for the city of the future. A network of administration, civil society, science and start-ups is working together on new ideas for a more liveable Berlin. It combines elements of digital workshop, co-working and event space in its rooms at Tempelhof airport. 

Civocracy provides the public administration with a modular digital participation platform. The approach: ensuring that governments can work constructively together with citizens to improve society. The Civocracy team is international, the platform is already used by cities and communities all over the world.    

form follows you 
The participation app of the company form follows you enables all stakeholders that are involved in a construction project to understand complex spatial planning in construction – from planners to building-owners and to local residents. It thus creates a basic prerequisite for informed opinion-forming and planning.

This participation app is a project of Fraunhofer Institute for Open Communication Systems. It is intended to inform citizens proactively and in line with their needs about important events in politics and administration. The aim is to make participation as easy as possible. Users are already involved with the development of the app. Together with CityLAB Berlin, new concepts of citizen-administration communication are to be tested.

Liquid Democracy 
The non-profit association works to make democratic processes at all levels of society more inclusive and transparent. The free software Adhocracy and the associated platform, both developed by Liquid Democracy, enable joint discussion and decision-making even across spatial and temporal distances. The offer is aimed at civil society organisations such as NGOs, trade unions, municipalities and political parties.

mein berlin
The participation platform of the State of Berlin offers an overview over projects of the Berlin administration. Citizens can contribute their ideas to numerous projects and thus actively participate in the shaping of our city. The contributions will be reviewed and evaluated by the respective project leaders. The projects can be filtered by topic and district.

SimRA: Sicherheit im Radverkehr( Saftety in Bicycle Traffic)
SimRa is a citizen science project of TU Berlin/Einstein Center Digital Future. The researchers are aiming to improve the safety of cyclists via an app. At the end of their trip, cyclists categorise hazardous situations, add comments and upload the data anonymously. The app records GPS data of the route and uses acceleration sensors to capture hazardous situations.

StadtManufaktur Berlin 
StadtManufaktur is an initiative of the TU Berlin, Zentrum Technik und Gesellschaft (ZTG) and the Einstein Center Digital Future. In the StadtManufaktur projects, scientists work together with urban actors on forward-looking solutions for Berlin.

Stimmen auf Knopfdruck
Until 2031, the “Townhall of the Future” is going to be built on the site of the “Haus der Statistik” (house of statistics) at Alexanderplatz. Until 12 March 2021, Berliners can easily upload their voice messages on the participation platform – and participate in its creation by contributing their ideas on architecture, interaction, accessibility and the values of the future building. The project wants to take up a variety of impulses from the urban society and thus create a place for everyone.