Wondering what the future holds for our cities? There is one thing we can be fairly sure of: Almost 70 % of the world’s population will live in urban environments by 2050, according to the UN. What urban planners still need to figure out, however, is how to ensure the well-being of these increasingly urban citizens. This calls for open governance, where citizens feel part of a greater project. “Citizens are growing tired of voting on decisions that have already been taken. They want to actively contribute and share ideas,” explains Veneta Ivanova, project manager at the Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics Research IGD and coordinator of the smarticipate (smart services for calculated impact assessment in open governance) project together with her colleague Joachim Rix. This need has already given rise to various online tools enabling participative democracy. Yet, these usually lack a solution allowing citizens to get a preview of proposed projects. Smarticipate fills this gap while enabling participative democracy within a single platform. Citizens, NGOs, businesses and public administrations can suggest projects, provide 2D and 3D models, and enable instigators to share their views and receive feedback in real time. “Say you’re an active cyclist for instance. You can propose locking stations that are secure at places that lack them. You can also suggest charging spots for both e-bikes and e-cars or put new cycle lanes up for debate. Other interested citizens will comment or vote for a concrete project, and the initiative can be linked with a crowdfunding initiative,” Ivanova adds.
From deliberated plans to action
Besides commenting on ongoing plans, these other citizens can also make their own proposals and see them come to life in 2D or 3D. From there on, the system provides real-time feedback on proposals’ feasibility and fosters transparency. Users such as public authorities and innovation hubs have extensively tested the tool and found it very useful and easy to use. Smarticipate’s highest value resides in its capacity to prevent situations where a public administration would bring a project to fruition only to see it dismissed and challenged by local inhabitants. The latter can make proposals based on participatory planning scenarios (urban stories) and provide feedback. From thereon, public administrations can decide on the feasibility of the proposal. Pilots for the topics of urban gardening, 3D building planning and tree planting have been developed for Rome, London and Hamburg. The consortium has been working with the three cities to include smarticipate in their own plans for participative democracy. Now that the project has been completed, Fraunhofer IGD and other consortium members have been focusing on the commercialisation of a final and redesigned system. A spin-off company will be created by the end of 2020. “Detailed market analysis is currently taking place,” says Ivanova. Smarticipate will be offered as a generic platform – including a test version of the three topics already developed – with the option of further licensing. Customers can either implement one of these apps, adjust them and adapt the user interface, or create a new app or topic altogether. Version 1.0 of the platform will be available by the end of September 2020, along with a hackathon to encourage new ideas and further use cases. “Our goal is to contribute to a greener, better, modern and convenient infrastructure in our direct neighbourhood by supporting policymakers in their investment decisions. Smarticipate offers a marketplace where citizen participation apps can be easily created and shared, and where participation campaigns are managed. Users can create their own apps, for instance to plan e-mobility charging stations, without the need for programming experts,” Ivanova concludes.
smarticipate, citizen engagement, smart, urban planners, open governance, participative democracy, neighbourhood, urban gardening