A new digitally-driven project aims to bring citizens into the heart of urban design. The system, U_CODE, is an online space where large numbers of citizens can submit design proposals regarding new urban infrastructure, buildings and spaces. These are assessed by experts, and ideas are incorporated into the eventual design. The idea is to involve the public as much as possible, in order to pick up on any resistance to proposed architecture and work and prevent negative public feeling towards new builds. Algorithms are used to analyse public reactions to decisions made about urban proposals, monitor emerging discussion topics and get a read on the public’s perception. “U_CODE raises public participation in urban planning to a new level by bringing together professional planners and citizens in a novel co-creative work flow and interaction process. It enables any citizen to actively take part in design work and project discussions, anytime, anywhere,” says Jörg Rainer Noennig, Professor for Digital City Science at Hamburg University, director of the Wissenarchitektur Laboratory of Knowledge Architecture at TU Dresden and U_CODE project coordinator. The digital aspect of the U_CODE platform means that public participation can be drawn into projects at scale. “With digital online tools, it can involve much broader audiences – hundreds to thousands – than conventional participation formats. Also, it ensures higher public acceptance and understanding of complex urban planning projects, which otherwise are often subject to controversial debate,” says Noennig.
A Digital Playground
The platform consists of three main sections: a Public Project Playground, in which the public can submit their ideas and play around; a Professionals Project Space, in which accredited architects work on their proposals for the urban architecture design; and a Co-Design Space, in which the ideas come together to form a harmonious blend of community-led co-created innovation. All this information is uploaded to a data space in the cloud, and other information such as social media can be included here for each project. The Co-Design Space is formed from two connected parts: an online portal where people contribute their own design ideas or comment on others, and a local co-design space, where experts introduce tools such as virtual reality and 3D printing to adapt and work on ideas created in the digital space, or to generate new ideas. The results of the co-design workshops enter an online gallery, accessible by the public who can then see and comment on the projects as they progress. “The vision of U_CODE is to tap into the collective creativity of citizens, in order to complement professional planners’ expertise,” says Noennig. Citizens can usually easily contribute local knowledge about a specific place’s social hotspots, history, social image, etc.
Some ideas, such as 3D printing the results of local workshops on the spot, only came through the pilot process. “During a pilot project for the campus re-design of an Inclusive School in Germany (Sangerhausen) we observed how easily disabled children handled the co-design tools, and how attentively they followed and engaged with the overall project (their teachers did worse!),” says Noennig. The U_CODE team now have several pilot applications up and running, to discover the practical and economic feasibility of the system. “One pilot is being run in the Indian city of Pimpri Chinchwad, within the Indian Smart Cities Mission. The key topic is the re-use and upgrade of formerly littered public spaces by local neighbourhood citizens,” says Noennig. “Another will happen in Charkiw, in Ukraine, where we will employ U_CODE for the campus re-design of Charkiw Technical University, potentially collecting the voices and ideas of tens of thousands of students.”
U_CODE, urban design, project, virtual reality, 3D printing, ideas, collaborative